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Transcription of Love Maine Radio #335: Robin Alden + Joanna and Phineas Sprague

Speaker 5:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio show number 335, hearing for the first time on Sunday, February 18, 2018. Today’s guest are Robin Alden the former executive director of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington, and Phineas and Joanna Sprague, the co-founder of Portland Yacht Services. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 5:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio, Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Jorgensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Robin Alden is the founding executive director of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. She retired at the end of December 2017 after 45 years of service in Maine’s fishing communities. Thanks for coming in.

Robin Alden:                         Great. Lovely to be here.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      We’re talking and the end of December 2017 has literally just happened. So you’re really still kind of working.

Robin Alden:                         I’m actually working this week mopping things up and taking care of loose ends. Yes.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      45 years, that’s amazing. I mean, you’re not a very old person, so that’s most of your adult life, I would guess.

Robin Alden:                         Well, actually I wasn’t really an adult when I started, because I was taking a year off from college and ended up in Stonington, and became captivated with the mission that I’ve pursued ever since.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Well, talk to me about that, because I know that following your passion has been really important to you and also, from what you tell me, to your husband, and you’ve encouraged your son to do the same thing. So what was your passion that got you to this place in Stonington?

Robin Alden:                         It was a series of just chance things that landed me in Stonington and the job I lined up. I was taking a year off from college. I was a history major and I didn’t really know. It was the early 70s, late 60s, and things were pretty tumultuous, and I didn’t really feel as if I knew what I wanted to study. And so, I took a year off to kind of settle myself. My father died when I was in high school and he was a very important person in my life. And so I was still going through that grieving. And so, I ended up in Stonington. The job I lined up didn’t come through. And so, I went down to the local paper, because what do you know how to do when you’re a sophomore in college? You know how to write and that’s about it.

So I rapidly became aware that freelance opportunities were covering the Chamber of Commerce, covering the school board, all land based, but the town ran on fishing. I started interviewing fishermen and that connected things in my past together. And so basically when I became aware of how much fishermen know about the local ecology, they know things about mud that nobody else knows there is to know, except for very, very specialized scientists, and they probably don’t know the things that fishermen know, because there have so many hours of observing the natural world. I also witnessed the frustration that fishermen felt that not being heard by scientists or policymakers and government. And my 1960s activism said, “Oh, we can fix this.”

And I spent the spring that year, I was off talking to fishermen. I just loved it. And to me, fishing seemed like the perfect business, because it connects … You have to take care of the earth. You have to take care of the ocean in order to be successful for the long term in making a living fishing, and you’re feeding people, and you’re keeping community economies going. I felt this if I had found the answer, and I wanted to fix this disconnect. And so the idea for starting a newspaper came to me sitting in a conference, when I saw the then newly appointed Commissioner of Marine Resources, Spencer Apollonio talking with a fisherman from the mid coast, and they were talking about shrimp.

And Spencer was a shrimp biologist, he knew a lot about shrimp. And this fisherman knew a lot about shrimp, and they could not hear each other. And finally the fisherman said, “I’ve got paint on my T-shirt. I bet you’ve never had pain on your T-shirt.” And actually knowing Spencer, that’s not true, but it was just this pure frustration. And I said to myself, “What we need is something that presents the world for each one of these two people living, to the other one in a non-threatening way.” I thought, “Oh, a weekly newspaper,” not knowing anything about publishing, “that shows up on the desk or the kitchen table, and just over time wears down those … bridges that gulf.” Long story short, I didn’t know anything about publishing. And I eventually got a monthly newspaper off the ground, which was called Maine Commercial Fisheries, and I called my mother who had been widowed a few years ago and said, “Your daughter’s dropping out of Yale, and she’s going to be starting a fisherman’s newspaper with no money.” And basically that’s what happened. And the newspaper’s still going as Commercial Fisheries News.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      How did your mother feel about that?

Robin Alden:                         I was 21 so I didn’t really register what she was feeling. Now, in retrospect as a mother, I think about that and think that it must have been pretty devastating for her. But she ended up very proud of what I’ve done.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Well, let me rephrase the question. If you don’t know how she felt, how did she respond? What did she say?

Robin Alden:                         I really don’t remember the conversations but I had $3000 that my grandmother had given me and it was mine and that’s what I did. And  [inaudible 00:07:33] not very successfully to try to make it happen during that next year. And the newspaper launched in September of ’73.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Well I think you’ve just kind of hit the nail on the head when you talk about when you’re 21 you don’t necessarily register because you know your parents say something and you think, “Well I’m an adult.” So you know, you do move in that direction. But the interesting thing about what you’re describing is that you were willing to do what needed to get done to make it happen, which doesn’t always happen at the age of 21.

Robin Alden:                         Yeah, I don’t know where that came from or how it happened, but that’s basically how I’ve done everything I’ve done, because it’s all been … You know, I eventually finished my degree at University of Maine in Economics. But all of the things I’ve done have been self-taught.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So where did that come from? Was this something that was modeled in your family? Was it something you learned in school? Where did you get the sense that you could figure out how to do what you needed to do?

Robin Alden:                         I had a wonderful education. I grew up in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area. I went to independent schools and I grew up in Cambridge when Kennedy was President, and many of the parents of people that I knew were working in the Kennedy administration, so it was a sense of if there’s a problem in the world, you need to step up and do something. And I had good tools, and not good tools in terms of knowing things, but critical thinking skills. And I think, I’ve always seen things as a whole. So you know some people are lumpers and some people are splitters.

I’m definitely a lumper and I see things in spectrums and the connections. And so I think that’s why I approach fisheries in Maine and the future of fisheries in Maine as a major set of things that need to take place in order for fisheries to be successful, and it’s everything from education to leadership to policy to really good science. The other thing, the other piece for this was, my father was an amateur naturalist, and had grown up on the water and worked on the water, and there’s a lot of … I mean if you’ve ever watched somebody sail small boats, they’re very, very attuned to what the wind’s doing, what the current’s doing, you name it, and that kind of fine scale observation is what fishermen do in order to make their living, plus it was on the water, so it was a very nice way for me to connect to a father that I’d lost.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You spent summers in Maine and that was your original connection?

Robin Alden:                         Yeah. My father was a schoolteacher, and so he would take his little family to Maine while he got summer jobs working on the water. So he ran the yacht club in Prouts Neck. For a number of years we lived over the post office. And then later he was part of the founding of Hurricane Island Outward Bound School and he did both the ecology and also ran the waterfront there. But he died very early in Hurricane’s history.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So that must have been a very formative time for you to lose your father so suddenly in high school.

Robin Alden:                         Very much so. Yeah.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      What I’m enjoying about this story is that essentially you saw that two different people representing two different groups had valuable information that they could each share, but somehow were not able to interface on, and so often that seems to be the problem, that it’s not that one group knows more than the other group, they just know differently, and then somehow there’s a translation issue. And so that’s what I’m really enjoying about this conversation is that you understood the translation issue and you tried to find a way to break that down.

Robin Alden:                         One of my favorite examples of this is actually with my husband who is a lifelong fisherman. He grew up in Vinalhaven and he fished his whole career, except for when he went to the University of Maine and ended up with a Master’s in Biochemistry, then decided that he wanted to go back fishing but he needed to get a job while he got reestablished, so he taught high school for a period of time, and then went back fishing, and as he came ashore he started to track historical ground fish location. Cod and haddock and pollack and flounders are ground fish, they feed on the bottom of the ocean. And that was his favorite fishery.

He fished every fishery that Maine fishermen fish, and so in the winter he started mapping historical accounts that talked about where fishermen in Maine caught fish on the grounds that he knew, and he called me in one night really excited. “Come and look.” And he had seen a pattern in his mapping and I went in and looked at the screen and it looked like a bowl of spaghetti to me. I could not see any pattern. And what was going on was that in his head, he had both the scientific rigor to map according to criteria three, observations and all kinds of things.

And the technical expertise to do that, GIS mapping and he knew the bottom of the Gulf of Maine. He knew that was a gully there. He knew there was a boulder over here, and he was seeing something that I couldn’t see. And so he could see the pattern. And that’s exactly what my life’s work been trying to do is pull those things together, because what we’ve learned about marine ecology in the last 40 years is that there is much more local stock structure and local behavior and learned behavior in fish populations than we ever thought. The basic fisheries’ management has always been based on, “Well, on average, there’s fish in the ocean and if you figure out how many are out there you can figure out how many you should take and then you’ll live happily ever after.” And it’s not that simple. So this local ecological knowledge is much more important and it’s even more important now because of climate change.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Explore that a little bit more for me.

Robin Alden:                         If you’re taking a mathematical approach to the ocean and saying, basically you just need to know how many fish are out there, we can’t see them, it’s so bothersome. So we’ll do sampling and then we’ll build models and we’ll be pretty good. And we are pretty good at that. We’re not perfect, but we’re pretty good. The underlying assumptions of that approach to fisheries is that it’s basically a static system. We know it’s dynamic and there’s things built into the model to be able to show that, but it’s fundamentally clunky. It’s not really adaptive. Climate change isn’t something that happens at a big scale. It happens at a lot of small scales, so the currents may change and one bay may change a lot. But outside that bay it may not change or this year or in this decade.

So the fishermen who spend more hours on the ocean than any research cruise entity can ever hope to have the money to do, they are the first line observers, and if their observations are actually funneled into a process of science that has figured out how to accept this type of observation, and one of the questions you asked me before I came in here was, “What’s changed?” When I published, I left the newspaper for a while in the mid 70s, and I was working for the Sea Grant Program at the University of Maine, and as part of that, we purchased a page in Commercial Fisheries News, and I ran a newsletter there, and in one of those articles I said, “Fishermen’s observations are really good basis for scientific hypothesis.”

You don’t have to accept them as truth but there are a great set, they provide really good questions that can produce better science, more in-depth perceptions than you would get if you were sitting in your ivory tower asking questions. The federal agency scientific lab the leader of it went to Washington to terminate my funding.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Wow. That’s … And you were just a college student.

Robin Alden:                         I was at that point back in school working half time and in my mid 20s. Yeah. And luckily, the vice president for research, a famous guy in the University of Maine, Fred Hutchinson who eventually came back and was the president, interviewed me and talked me through, and he said this is within academic freedom and we’ll support you.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Why do you think there was such a strong response?

Robin Alden:                         I was threatening the established … Back then there was no collaborative research. Basically, people’s approach to fisherman’s knowledge was I’d be extremely surprised if that were true. You know, they assumed that there was … it was an ‘us and them’, and fishermen are always trying to get more, and what I said when I started the paper and it’s true today is I’ve been trying to give voice to all the fishermen who sit in the coffee shop and say, “Well, what they ought to do is,” and they’re not talking about. Sure, every fisherman’s aggressive. Not every fishermen, but humans are greedy.

They want to get more, whatever. But there is this underlying conservation and observer theme in most fishermen and certainly in some fishermen and those are the people who were really thinking about, “I want my grandchildren to be able to have this lifestyle. I’m in the best business that there’s ever been, and I want to make sure that we restrain ourselves, because we don’t necessarily always make the right decisions. And I want to contribute my observations, and will somebody listen to me?”

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      As we’ve been talking, it has reminded me of the struggle that, just for example, health care providers have where there is the scientific knowledge, which is proven by numbers. And then there is the clinical knowledge, which you know, as a doctor for you know more than two decades now, there’s stuff that I have learned by being on the ground, by sitting with patients over and over and over again. But that’s not the stuff that comes down from the scientific bodies. And yet, both are very valuable and I think a lot of doctors feel as if we don’t have a voice in patient care these days.

Robin Alden:                         That’s really interesting, because you also are an increasingly regulated industry where a lot of what you’re able to get paid for, or the patients are able to get paid for whatever, it has to be based on all of those scientific studies and doesn’t readily lend itself to-

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Which is not unlike fisheries-

Robin Alden:                         Very similar. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but you’re right and it’s the same kind of fine observation, fine scale observation.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So do you think that this is an evolving change that we are seeing?

Robin Alden:                         I actually think that fisheries’ management is at a pivot point right now because of the acknowledgement of climate change and that is … First of all, fisheries is always about policy because it’s a public resource. So you always have government involved, whether it’s the town managing their claims or their alewives or the state or the federal agency, and the federal agency regulates the outside three, and the state inside three, but there’s lots of collaborative interagency connections that make all of that work. So you always have to have government, because otherwise there’s no form of restraint. And that’s been true …

I mean, throughout human history, there have been rules or taboos that have tried to allow humans to live within the bounty that the earth provides. Government science is in a terrible position all the time because if they make the wrong decision, one way they’re sued by the environmentalists if they make the wrong decision, the other way, the industry sues them and in fact, often if they just make any decision, they get attacked from both sides.

It’s a very defensive conservative cautious process, and I think this is again health care is a good analogy, probably in the same situation. So if you’re looking at the history of science, this changes very slowly, and most of fisheries science has been federal for many years because that’s the only group that’s had the incentive to have money for fisheries science. Increasingly, there is academic science going on as well.

And that’s a big change that part of where Maine has led the way and in some ways on this. But there hasn’t been as much challenge and debate with the science that affects regulation, that affects fishermen. And so where there may be a lot of recognition, let’s say, about this fine scale population structure that exists not just for codfish in the Gulf of Maine, but for scallops in the Gulf of Maine, whoever thought that in one small 14 square mile Bay in Maine, the scallops are genetically different from the scallops outside there, or that in the middle of the Pacific, a reef fish that’s an inch long homes not just to the reef where they were hatched from, but to the specific portion of the reef. There’s a lot of complexity that government science or the policy hasn’t caught up to be able to figure out.

And I think now that we’re facing that we’ve got a dynamic situation, we’re going to have to figure out what’s the political structure, what’s the decision making structure that’s going to allow us to adapt faster. And I think that where I’ve been interested in and where I’ve been greatly affected by Jim Wilson, who is a professor in the School of Marine Sciences at the University Maine. He’s an economist, but he’s been very involved in both sort of the interface between ecology and fisheries policy.

And he’s been looking at computer complex adaptive systems theory basically. And what you do when you have what you call a wicked problem or a very complex problem, is you set up feedback loops, rapid feedback loops so that you’re learning and you do this in a hierarchical way, because there are some things that matter at the very fine scale, local, and there are some things that have to be done at a bay or gulf or ocean wide scale.

And so for me the political science fascination right now is how do you set up systems that human beings can live within that create this information loop and that’s adaptive decision making that make smart decisions going forward? And I think, there are many people thinking about this now and although the laws still lock us into the old way of doing things, at the federal level, I think at the state level there’s much more room for innovation. And I think, some of the things that we’ve been involved with recently are going to be contributing to the federal agency being able to experiment a little bit.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Like what?

Robin Alden:                         As you mentioned, I’m just in the process of retiring right now. And one of the things that I’m really pleased to have been able to do before I left was to develop an agreement with the National Fisheries Service and the State of Maine and the organization that I led until just now, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, to develop the science that would allow an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries in the eastern Maine area. And it isn’t even fully … We don’t even know what this means yet. But the idea is two agencies and our organization have agreed to work to say, “How would we do this?”

And it’s a science agreement and it will take a number of years to figure this out, but we’ll learn by doing, and it’s building on the scallop co-management process that Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries was instrumental in helping get going in the state of Maine with the Department of Marine Resources. It will build on other types of local citizen science that’s going on at the clam level or the alewife level, and we’ll just see where it leads. But it gives me incentive for Coastal Fisheries and Paul Anderson who’s the new executive director a wonderful focus for the next era.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      I was thinking about the interview I did with Abigail Carroll who is an oyster farmer, I guess she calls herself, and her mentioning that different oysters in exactly the same location can have different characteristics based on how far down in the water they are. When you were talking about these microscopic environmental changes that impact an organism, I was thinking how interesting it is that we live in a time that we now can see these things, and we’re just on the cusp of being able to do something with this information.

Robin Alden:                         And that’s what they mean about the basis for a hypothesis or the basis for a business decision, because there are all these things. We can’t see currents, we can’t see plankton distribution. These things are invisible. Some are too big for us to see, some are too small for us to see. We see the indicators, which are the oysters at the bottom are growing differently than the oysters in the middle, than the top. And as the currents change with temperature changes, we’re going to have different plankton availability in different places at different depths. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Well, I appreciate the 45 years of service that you have given to Maine’s fishing communities and also the time you’ve taken to come up here. I guess down here from where you live in Stonington. I’ve been speaking with Robin Alden who was the founding executive director of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, who retired at the end of December 2017. But I suspect it’s not the last we will hear from you.

Robin Alden:                         Thank you very much. A privilege to be able to do this.

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Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Phineas and Joanna Sprague are the co-founders of Portland Yacht Services. Thanks for coming in today. I think you like to be called Finn, is that right?

Phineas Sprague:                That’s right.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Okay. Nice to have you.

Joanna Sprague:                  Thank you very much.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      I’m really intrigued by all the work that you have put into Portland’s waterfront and this is something that you’ve been doing for many years. You’ve been married for 42 years that we decided that was how long ago.

Joanna Sprague:                  Yeah. Long time.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      And you’ve always been joined by the water.

Joanna Sprague:                  Yes. In fact, when we first came back from sailing, it was hard to be more than 72 feet apart.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Because you’re used to being-

Phineas Sprague:                72 feet apart, right, as far apart as we got.

Joanna Sprague:                  For many years.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You met in Florida, where you were working as a nurse, Joanna-

Joanna Sprague:                  That’s correct.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      And Finn, you were sailing around the world.

Phineas Sprague:                I was. I had the idea that we could sail around the world in 18 months. And it didn’t work out that way. But we did meet in Florida.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      And you also got married on board your vessel-

Phineas Sprague:                Right.

Joanna Sprague:                  In Bali.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      In Bali.

Joanna Sprague:                  And all of your family was there, and just my parents and it was Christmas.

Phineas Sprague:                Christmas Day.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      That’s very romantic.

Joanna Sprague:                  It’s romantic. It was part of what we sort of said, “Come visit us at Christmas time.” It wasn’t easy to find a minister. We weren’t sure he was going to show up. And he did. So we then brought out … Did have a ring? Yes we did have a ring. So we did get married, but it was a surprise to everybody.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Joanna, your background was in you said outboarding.

Joanna Sprague:                  Well, my parents had a little marina and camp grounds in Canada, and I grew up on the water. I delivered papers and then it shut down in the winter we would go to Florida, and they come back up and opened it up. So I grew up working in a little store.

Phineas Sprague:                OMC dealer.

Joanna Sprague:                  My dad gave us all of his old manuals and he even brought a motor to us one time on a folding motor, which was one of the first ones ever, ever. Then I went to nursing school, so I had a nursing background getting on the boat.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So I guess, what I wonder is, weren’t you taking kind of an enormous leap of faith by getting on that boat that first time 42 years ago with this man that you had just met?

Joanna Sprague:                  You’re right, because the boat was already in Panama at the time, and Finn called and asked if I’d help him get the boat across the Pacific. And I said, sure.

Phineas Sprague:                Where are the Marquesas?

Joanna Sprague:                  Got off the phone, had to look it up on a map. I had no idea where the Marquesas we’re, that’s near Tahiti but I never got off. Four years, later we sailed back into Portland.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So do you think it actually strengthened your marriage, the fact that you spent all that time together in a pretty small-

Phineas Sprague:                We’ve had each other’s backs. In most difficult circumstances.

Joanna Sprague:                  Absolutely. You know there’s no question that as I said, we weren’t ready to be apart when we came back sailing around the world, and that was the hardest part for me to go off every day and go to a job and not seeing him for eight hours. It was very different than our life together for the first four-five years was we were always together and we’ve always been on a boat. You also know who’s in charge, and in a house it’s a little different.

Phineas Sprague:                We’ve had an agreement since we were married and that is that she did all the little decisions and I did all the big ones, and after 42 years there’ve really been no big decisions, so any time I thought that was a big decision, I got really big trouble for it.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So it just sounds like you’re doing all the decisions, Joanna.

Joanna Sprague:                  No, I’ve had to relinquish-

Phineas Sprague:                She’s the admiral. I look at the horizon and she looks at my feet to make sure that I don’t trip.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You complement each other well.

Joanna Sprague:                  We’ve been at it a long time. We know who’s better at other things, so we let each other take off the walls. But those first few years of being married, we weren’t apart.

Phineas Sprague:                And it was also dangerous. You know we were in those situations-

Joanna Sprague:                  That’s the 70s.

Phineas Sprague:                In the 70s in Indonesia and Red Sea and places that … We were right off Timor when that was invaded. So and then we got in the cyclone and then you know we got some pretty bad storms and you know-

Joanna Sprague:                  We were one of the first cruising boats to go through the Suez Canal after it reopened. And it was frightening. Lots of stories of guns-

Phineas Sprague:                People couldn’t comprehend a yacht. Even the concept of you know, “Are you sailing around the world, because why? What are you doing? We’re having a hard enough time living and you have the resources to do what?”

Joanna Sprague:                  Would I do it again? No. I mean I think the world is a lot scarier now. I wouldn’t want to be at any of these places. I mean you know we get that question all the time, and there’s too much unrest, there’s too much dislike out there.

Phineas Sprague:                I slept with a pistol under my pillow all the way up the Red Sea and not knowing what I would do if I had to use it. You know, boats were machine gunned. And I think it was a young person’s concept that you could live forever.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      How old were you?

Joanna Sprague:                  We were in our 20s when we were doing this. Back in ’77.

Phineas Sprague:                ’77.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      And what did your families think of this voyage around the world?

Joanna Sprague:                  As I said, I’m the youngest in my family so my mom was okay. They came to visit us a few times. Same with your family. I think you had always talked about sailing around the world, as a kid.

Phineas Sprague:                Well I was always independent and you know my parents … I guess, they’d probably be put in jail for what they let me do as a child. You know they let me go out and I was allergic to everything that was on the farm. So at age six I was out rolling a boat around in Cape Elizabeth offshore in a southwest breeze, so my eyes would get all clouded up with … And then I ended up all by myself doing mapping for the main geological survey down the coal mines in West Virginia. We basically figured that the first pancake was the one that you always threw out, so it would be okay. There was a bunch of us. We were six of us.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You mean you were the oldest child?

Phineas Sprague:                Yeah.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      So you were the first pancake?

Phineas Sprague:                Right. But the experience that they allowed me to do made me very independent. And I think that they trusted me but they would never allow more than three other kids on the boat at any one time.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Just in case something bad happened.

Phineas Sprague:                Right. And you know it was dangerous.

Joanna Sprague:                  We didn’t have the communications that we have now on boats. We had a ham radio and we had a single sideband that-

Phineas Sprague:                Didn’t work.

Joanna Sprague:                  That was one of the harder things for all of us was not having that communication. And if you talk to our parents, it was a big deal when we did make the phone calls.

Phineas Sprague:                Right.

Joanna Sprague:                  We tried to call them when we get into a port so they knew where we were.

Phineas Sprague:                There were great ham radio operators in Southport, London-

Joanna Sprague:                  That was a whole different level.

Phineas Sprague:                That would help us to communicate. You know nowadays you know you can basically with the radio and phones and all of this stuff, you have instant gratification from anywhere in the world, whereas when we were sailing, we were the last, I call it classic boat that used celestial navigation. And celestial teaches you to be very cautious. And you know there can be many days when you don’t have a good fix, and it can be quite dangerous when you’re making approaches to land. So things have changed. A lot of people that don’t have the maritime skills are able to get out on the water and go great distances now.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Celestial navigation is by the stars, so not having a good fix is, maybe you can’t see the stars well?

Phineas Sprague:                You can’t see the stars and you’re not able to locate your position on the nautical chart with any accuracy. So you’re approaching a coast or something in this storm, what you usually do is try to make contact with a lighthouse or something that flashes 20 miles off so if you’re 20 miles off course, you can see the light and then you can readjust and go on with a different form of navigation, but the real danger is just that period when you’re approaching near shallow water.

Joanna Sprague:                  You also use the sun and the moon. You can use all.

Phineas Sprague:                Planets and planet moons, jet contrails you know whatever tool that you have.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      Tell me about the Portland Yacht Services. Tell me about how this came to be.

Phineas Sprague:                Well when we got back, it turned out that my grandfather Thomas’s company that he sold, which is a Portland company was for sale, and United Industrial Syndicate owned it and they had built this machine that reached out and grabbed people. So it was a huge liability. So they had to shut the company down. And so because my family’s been in the energy business for years in the coal mines and my grandfather sold it, we were looking for something positive to do and the Portland Company was building nuclear power plant components at the time and it had actually built the first commercial nuclear power plant in New England, Yankee Rowe, that reactor. And so my parents decided that they wanted to acquire the property and build nuclear power plant components.

And so because I was a geologist and had studied petrology and all of these things, it fit that I was working in operations. And after Three Mile Island, the whole industry shut down in the United States, and the Portland Engineering Company went out of business.

Joanna Sprague:                  That was the name of it.

Phineas Sprague:                And I had seen so many decisions that I didn’t understand and couldn’t articulate reasons for. I went back to school, went to Northeastern and got an MBA and was sort of starving to death. And so somebody in the Yacht Club asked me to put a fender on a Boston Whaler in my basement. And so I did that and then a person that I’ve known for years, Eddie Rowe was running the yacht club to do the maintenance in the yacht club had a heart attack, and they said, “Will you take it over?” and I’m going, “Well, you know, it’s food, right?” And so I started to do that.

Joanna Sprague:                  Out of our house.

Phineas Sprague:                Out of our house while I was getting my MBA and I got asked to go work for General Dynamics in Quincy to work to the quality assurance for the submarines. And I went down there and decided that none of these people were like Bath Iron Works and they didn’t understand, they weren’t doing good quality work. And they would eat the young person alive.

Joanna Sprague:                  Plus we didn’t want to move.

Phineas Sprague:                And we couldn’t move. We didn’t want to move.

Joanna Sprague:                  We have a lovely spot where we live, where we brought up our kids, and it’s one of the questions, totally, I’d stay there forever and we didn’t want to leave Maine.

Phineas Sprague:                So I was working on boats at the Yacht Club and somebody asked me to rebuild a boat. You know I started to move into an old potato barn, in Cape Elizabeth and you know we were working on people’s boats and came to the attention of the town zoning person and they found out, they said that it was not appropriate to build boats and work on boats in a barn on a salt water farm. And so we had to scoot into an empty building in Portland, which is the Portland Company and moved overnight out of there, and then later went back in and changed the zoning, but it was too late for us.

Joanna Sprague:                  When we moved to 58 Fore, we were only in a couple of the buildings. Most of them were leased at that point-

Phineas Sprague:                Or abandoned.

Joanna Sprague:                  Or abandoned, and Portland Yacht Services came out of that.

Phineas Sprague:                We actually didn’t have access to the water at that point.

Joanna Sprague:                  And within five years was the beginning of a little… and then choo-choo train came. And Finn was the guy that brought that here and hauled it down.

Phineas Sprague:                Biddeford, Ashley and a whole bunch of other people were-

Joanna Sprague:                  Kind of home. And that’s when you started to get the rights across.

Phineas Sprague:                I kept getting diverted by nonprofit activities. You know the school, I was on the board there and got that rebuilt and up with Jim Stevenson and-

Joanna Sprague:                  Lightship-

Phineas Sprague:                Nantucket Lightship and Spring Point Museum-

Joanna Sprague:                  But that’s all been coming out of the 58 Fore Portland Yacht Services, and as our tenants moved out, we moved into the buildings.

Phineas Sprague:                No sewer there. It was pumping the raw sewage overboard for years and you couldn’t lease any property there until you put the new pumping station and connected all the heads, the place has fallen apart round our ears. This was quite a struggle.

Joanna Sprague:                  And 31 years ago, we asked about doing a little boat show and the little boat show has a dozen boat builders from Maine just stand at a table. No boats.

Phineas Sprague:                Boat builders and [inaudible 00:47:37] Wilson a sailmaker from Boothbay.

Joanna Sprague:                  These are our friends.

Phineas Sprague:                David Nutt and Dragonworks-

Joanna Sprague:                  Within four years we had moved close to 60 exhibitors with boats and we started to utilize the space and that was just one weekend and the boat building industry changed. People came just to meet the boat builders, which many of these guys wouldn’t step foot outside of their shop let alone the state. So it was really an opportunity for that industry to get the spotlight on. That was another big change for us to utilize the buildings but the boat yard continued to grow.

Phineas Sprague:                Right and we got into a situation where we had to move the boats all outside in order to invite our competitors in to a boat show.

Joanna Sprague:                  It grew.

Phineas Sprague:                It grew and grew until at one point we had 240 exhibitors and every single niche and cranny was filled with the boat.

Joanna Sprague:                  Outside and inside and we had boats on docks in March. Unusual. And then we also-

Phineas Sprague:                The thing is that Joanna would run … She would do all the work to set the boat show up all year long, put everything out, get everything organized, get the layout of the place going until like a week before the boat show, and everybody else is working on boats and then suddenly it was like the starting gun would go off, we drop all of our tools, we’d move all the boats outside, we threw a party for three days with our friends in the boating industry. And then everything will go back into the building and we go work on boats again. So it was almost a month that we would spend not working with the whole organization and then-

Joanna Sprague:                  And we worked diligently with the neighborhood, because that neighborhood wasn’t used to it, and tons of people would come from away. And we had-

Phineas Sprague:                We were imposing on them, right. So we had to be really careful. You know and it was hard because you get people that are really focused in coming to this boat show and they don’t really care where they park and they don’t really care that they’ve gone up under the grass and somebody’s lawn-

Joanna Sprague:                  And it’s March.

Phineas Sprague:                And it’s March, so it’s mud season so you know it’s so difficult thing.

Joanna Sprague:                  We’ve put the flower show. We did that for 17 years.

Phineas Sprague:                It was Joanna’s love. You know, I will work in the garden when I can’t stand up in the boat.

Joanna Sprague:                  Is was a whole different crowd of people too, you know boats, artists. They’re rough around the edges. The green industry is a little different, but it was something we worked on. It was something that the Junior League had come to us but they wanted the buildings for a month. We couldn’t shut down our business for a month. We could shut down for a week and especially if we had two shows back to back, that worked, so we did that for a long time.

Phineas Sprague:                Kearneys, we call ourselves Kearneys for two weeks. But it was you know you didn’t do it enough so you became jaded, and you also were because it’s been going on for 30 or more years. The people that come into the show as exhibitors have become close friends.

Joanna Sprague:                  And we’ve seen a whole new generation, their children are taking over their businesses or their children are doing other things in the marine industry, just like our kids. It’s been really a piece that we work at also, it’s just education. We’re finding that the boat building industry needs to keep promoting themselves. You’re going to lose the art of building with wood. And we worked hard at the whole idea of education, where to get those kids. We work hard, trying to find kids-

Phineas Sprague:                Helped start the Marine Systems Program. And we find that the real issue is to start with a small boat, and then basically have the opportunity to look at the marine industry as a possible career. And you know people don’t remember that World War II was carnage, and Maine supplied a lot of Merchant Marine that never came back. And the mothers would tell their kids, “I don’t want you to go out in a boat with your uncle. I want you to go work in a mill.” So many of the towns around Maine basically if you go look at them, the anchorage is full of boats from away, and the kids are throwing rocks in the water because they really know that they have an attachment to it, and yet they don’t know how to get out onto it. And so you know, it’s been one of the things that we’ve been trying to do is to reconnect the young people in Maine with a place that you don’t have to mow.

Joanna Sprague:                  That’s where Sail Maine came in very early on. He’d with him for years, because the kids from the hill would come down-

Phineas Sprague:                And throw rocks at the windows at the building-

Joanna Sprague:                  We got to figure out what to do with these kids. They we’re bored. They want to be on water, they don’t know how, until they started tiny little boat building projects.

Phineas Sprague:                We work with the University of Southern Maine and we work with the city of Portland, the parks and rec, and a whole bunch of great people.

Joanna Sprague:                  And now we have worldwide sailors, nationally known sailors.

Phineas Sprague:                We got some of the finest sailors in the world coming out of Portland, Maine and that’s basically because we changed the model a little bit. All of the high schools sail together. So when I was a child, I would sail and there’d be one other person in the whole group that would challenge you. And now there’s probably six or eight or 10 high schools that are also playing excellent sailors and they all challenge themselves, so they end up being world class sailors, because that’s the model, that’s really different. My high school has always attracted great sailors from say Bermuda and other places in the world to sail, but even still, it’s only two or three people that are really good and they don’t have the opportunity to tune themselves up, whereas this program is really tuning the kids up to be excellent sailors.

Joanna Sprague:                  And some of the kids go on to Maine Maritime Academy.

Phineas Sprague:                Maine Maritime and Landing Boat School.

Joanna Sprague:                  Huge support funneling them, getting kids into that school-

Phineas Sprague:                Universities.

Joanna Sprague:                  Good jobs-

Phineas Sprague:                Further in the marine sciences and so that you know you can’t sort of take someone who’s 18 and suddenly think that they’re going to have boat sense and you know they are all thumbs and it takes a long time to get that original boat sense. So you really in my view, have to start in eight to 14, if not sooner in a very small tippy boat.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      I hope that people have been listening will be intrigued enough to go down and take a look at the work that you’ve done down at Portland Yacht Services. I’ve been speaking with Phineas and Joanna Sprague who are the co-founders of Portland Yacht Services. You’ve done a lot of good work for our city so I really appreciate it, and for the state of Maine. Thank you and thank you for coming in today.

Joanna Sprague:                  Thank you.

Phineas Sprague:                You’re welcome.

Dr.Lisa Belisle:                      You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio show number 335. Our guests have included Robin Alden and Phineas and Joanna Sprague. For more information on our guests and extended interviews visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. Free preview of each week show. Sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We’re privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a good bountiful life.

Speaker 5:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost. Our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Speaker 6:                               So good. How can you paint a picture of a person who is already a work of art? Who’ll be the last and surely not the first one. Couldn’t choose a perfect place to start.

I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

If she were dollars she would be a billion. If she were water she would fill the sea. If she were taller she could crush a building. If she were honey I would be her bee.

I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

So all the black and white that filled these pages have run together into so much gray. Even though I don’t know how to read it, I just can’t seem to put this book away.

‘Cuz I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

‘Cuz I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon-

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #334: Joseph K. Loughlin and Kate Clark Flora + Nancy Thompson

You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Dr. Lisa B:                                This Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 334. Airing for the first time on Sunday, February 11th, 2018. Today’s guests are Joseph K. Loughlin, the former Assistant Chief of Police for the city of Portland. He and mystery and crime author, Kate Clark Flora co-wrote the book Shots Fired. Our next guest is former Center for Grieving Children President of the Board, Nancy Thompson who lost her middle child, Timmy, to suicide at the age of 18. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of the contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Jorgensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Dr. Lisa B:                                Joseph K. Loughlin is the former Assistant Chief of Police for the city of Portland and a published author. Kate Clark Flora is a mystery and crime author who has published 18 books. She and Loughlin recently co-wrote the second book, Shots Fired, which came out this past October. Thanks for coming in today.

Joseph K. L:                            Thank you.

Kate Clark F:                           Thanks for having us.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You’re okay if I call you, Joe?

Joseph K. L:                            Sure.

Dr. Lisa B:                                All right. I’d like to start with reading a quote that’s towards the end of your book, Shots Fired and this was in an address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, “Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system.” These words were echoed by Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, speaking at the memorial for the officers assassinated in Dallas, “Every societal failure, we put off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops. Here in Dallas, we got a loose dog problem, let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, give it to the cops. Policing was never meant to solve all of these problems.” The first quote, “Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system,” was by Former President Barrack Obama. That’s a very big statement to have in your book.

Joseph K. L:                            It is a big statement and it rings true because, actually, 70% of the time that officers spend on the street is negotiating from one thorny situation to the next and dealing with all of our societal ills that are left at the doorstep. Like the Chief of Dallas said, whatever it is, mentally ill, drugged, deranged, we’re dealing with that all the time. Police spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with those types of issues and often with no good answers. Where do you bring this person?

This is closed, how do I take care of this mom or these kids that have been taken away from the family and all those things. For me, as a police officer who spent 30 years in the business, to watch this country scapegoat the police as the problem was the motivating factor for me to write this book of police officers with Kate in the worst possible situation as deadly force which, by the way, nobody wants to be involved in. I think the rhetoric and the pervasiveness and understandings have been pushed out over and over again and have confused our society. Back to what you just expressed and what the President have expressed is true and we often scapegoat the police for the broader societal ills.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Kate, what was it like for you to work on a project that can be very grim at times?

Kate Clark F:                           Well, it’s my fourth grim project. Actually, I think it’s a really interesting question and one that people ask me a lot. Between writing fictional police and real police, I spend about 15 years now spending time with police officers talking about homicides but particularly talking about their lives, talking about the impact of the job.

Part of that came out of my early friendship with Joe, we’ve been friends for about 20 years. I think that I stand in the feet of the civilian, I’m the person who asks the question, “Why this? Why that?” Then I have, overtime, evolved into becoming the person who gives voice to something that a lot of police officers don’t have an opportunity to do. In our collaborations, of course, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It is an interesting time to be a police officer because it seems as though we are, in some ways, doing to police officers what we did to people returning from Vietnam.

Joseph K. L:                            I can’t believe you said that.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You can’t believe I said that?

Joseph K. L:                            No, because I’ve been expressing that. What’s happening to police in this country and what we need to know and recognize is that people today are very, very different from the ’60s and ’70s. The training, the policy procedures that we have now, the scrutiny that’s on, the individuals and the organization is intense and pronounced. Every officer out there knows that he or she could be front page news and painted in a terrible picture the next day.

I know I’m digressing but it’s the notion that any police officer wants to be involved in a deadly force incident is far, far from the reality and from the truth. You expressed that perfectly and I remember saying that when I was motivated to do this work and had to bring Kate in because it was so massive and I had so many officers I talked to.

I was like what’s happening to the police in this country today is very similar to what happened to our soldiers and military personnel that came back from the Vietnam War. Think about that, it was a horrible time in our country and people were throwing paint on them, urine and they couldn’t wear their uniforms and imputing everyone as this one big entity of a problem.

10 years later, we all come together and say, “Well, we’re sorry. We didn’t realize what really happened.” Well, too late, the damage is done. The damages have been done to the profession of police in this country and we are suffering consequences now. I can go into that but that’s a great statement because I’ve been saying that from the inception, from the thought of this book.

Dr. Lisa B:                                I was struck by how messy these situations are. You said this repeatedly in the book, that what most of us think of is what we see on television and that is here’s a brightly lit space, here’s a clean shot, the officer can fire at a person’s arm and that’s enough to disable him. What I’m reading about is officers who are falling downstairs and to darkened basements where maybe there’s bomb-making materials, they don’t have a flashlight, they don’t know whether the person’s on drugs. In one particular case, somebody’s being stabbed so people are fearing for their lives. When you’re in that situation, it’s not that different than being in a war time situation where you’re just trying to make the best decision that you can. It’s not probably going to be perfect and it’s going to impact you for a long time.

Kate Clark F:                           I think that’s one of the reasons that in some of these incidents, we’ve included the voices of multiple officers so that you can actually see that the officer on the left-hand side of the car who’s trying to get the driver out and the guy on the right who’s got a gun in his face and the guy in the rear who’s trying to figure out what role he can play in how to disable the bad guy. All of their precessions are going to be radically different because of where they’re standing and the public doesn’t understand that.

Joseph K. L:                            Well, you really captured a lot in the way you just expressed it. It’s not TV, it’s not the movies, these things don’t occur on sterile environments, they don’t defy the laws of physics. Usually, it’s in a flash or a blink of an eye when you’re talking to someone like we’re engaging right now, then all of a sudden, someone’s trying to kill you or someone from behind you is trying to get you.

It’s so unpredictable and every case is unique. It happens in cold weather, hot weather, different terrains, dark alleys, stairwells, down in the basements. It’s nothing like what’s presented on TV but the general population is educated and trained by Hollywood TV and the movies. Self included until I became a police officer which I expressed in the book a little bit as well.

I was a very liberal minded college student, I had no inclination of being a police officer by any stretch and that’s where life took me. You’ll learn the realities of things, but all cops will tell you that the general public has no idea what we really do on a day-to-day basis and how the day is punctuated by violence, whether it’s domestic or someone doing robbery or what’s illustrated in the book.

You really captured exactly what I believe society believes. Why not wing him, shoot him in the leg, it doesn’t happen in a clean and sterile environment like this room. Even at the range, at the firing range where we train, if I were to move my hand in a motion like this, good luck trying to hit it, it’s not that slow. In the dynamics that are rapidly evolving in these circumstances, people don’t stand still and present themselves.

There’s no spiffy dialogue before something happens, it happens in an instant and that’s illustrated in the book. That’s what we’re trying to show and the reason we picked deadly force, or I picked it, I had a whole another book going before this about police work, is when I saw the country convulsing into this, in my view, craziness. I just felt I have to do something about this and educate the public. People say it’s good to hear the other side.

There are no sides. The police and the public and the public and the police, we got to bring our society together. We don’t excuse bad cops, poor tactics, horrible situations, terrible mistakes that happen in war and then these violent circumstances but by and large, it’s a very, very small percentage that occurs in the country. Less than 5% of officers ever use their weapon, I never had to use my weapon in my whole 30 year career and that would be the norm for most police officers. People watch TV and Don Johnson in Miami Vice or whatever, going way back, killed 150 people. It’s something absurd and that’s what people think.

Dr. Lisa B:                                I had a hard time reading this book, not because it’s a hard read but because it’s so tragic. It’s people on both sides that are being impacted, really, for the rest of their lives and their families. It’s whether you’re somebody who’s high on drugs or just committed a crime and you’ve been shot and killed and now, you leave your children behind or you’re the officer who shot the person or you’re the officer that got shot in the face or you’re the officer who died, leaving children behind. Everybody is a casualty when it comes to a shot being fired it seems.

Joseph K. L:                            We should turn this over to her, this is great.

Kate Clark F:                           Yeah, [crosstalk 00:11:53]. You can just go ahead and talk about this book and then we’ll go write another one. Really, I think one of the things that people never really understand, particularly if you’re educated by media, is the ripples. One of the things that’s in the book that people don’t really think about is the officer’s family.

The officer is on the front page of the paper with the immediate rush to judgment and then the officer’s children go to school, the officer’s wife goes to work or to the supermarket and everybody has an assumption about what that person did which is not founded in fact. There’s implications for the victim, for the person who was shot, the subject and there’s implications for the officer. There’s implications for the department and for the families but that is all above the community because as Joe says, cops are not them. They are us.

Dr. Lisa B:                                That’s really important. This idea that these are, you’re calling them guardians within the book, that they are the people who are choosing to put their lives on the line and the families are choosing to be part of this as well. They can take up to three years or maybe the longer for investigation to figure out whether is it a bad cop situation, is it truly the fault of the criminal, what’s going on. By that time, a lot of people have lost interest. We only heard what we first heard and nobody ever comes back and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

Joseph K. L:                            We illustrated that throughout the work and in a deadly force, as I’ve said, there are no good outcomes. Not for the officer, not for the family members of the deceased, not for the community, not for anybody involved in the peripheral, the organization goes through a lot and there’s a disconnect between the individual who’s involved like, “Hey, I don’t want to be involved in this,” and they get ostracized to some degree.

It depends upon the network and the professionals in each police department, but there are no good outcomes in these. It’s piercingly painful events and the worst possible situations. There’s a lot of ripples, as you said, in so many ways. They don’t walk way unscathed and they’re never the same again.

In fact, I have several officers in the book and I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of officers that just, “I don’t want anything to do with this profession anymore. I didn’t sign-up for this. I wish it never happened.” Those are the common denominators. Nationwide, many police leave the profession as soon as they’re involved in this and some never come out of it.

In fact, I did a bunch of interviews where the officers in the middle of it goes, or she, “I just can’t do this anymore,” or they actually start crying, tearing up, going to a trance of like, “I just can’t deal with this.” This is what we’re trying to educate the public about is that this is what you may think and this is what happens to the human beings behind the badge. I’m hoping it breaks a better understanding and starts better conversations in our country. We’re off the track right now and we got to get it back, in all aspects.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You’re not suggesting that there aren’t perhaps bigger problems within the institution?

Joseph K. L:                            Of course.

Dr. Lisa B:                                When we decided to have you on the show, I actually had two separate younger people talked to me about institutional racism within the police force. I said, “Well, I’ve read this book and it doesn’t … ” Obviously, I have very limited experience with this, but it doesn’t sound like he’s saying there is or isn’t institutional racism. That’s not really the point of what you’re trying to say.

Kate Clark F:                           Yeah, this book was not written to cover all the problems with policing in America. This book was written to say when we’re going to have a conversation about policing and in particular, when we’re going to have a conversation about deadly force and the use of deadly force.

We would just like people who are entering that conversation to understand that the things that we cover in the book, the things that people believe versus what really happens, the speed with which these incidents happen, the long-term implications for the officers. You talk to the officers in Watertown, for example.

The ones who were in the shootout with the Tsarnaev Brothers who didn’t know they were in a shootout with the Boston Marathon bombers. They thought they were stopping two carjackers and then bombs start flying and that’s people who, years later, are just recognizing the devastating damages that that night did to them.

How, in terms of going on with their lives and when they go out, how they feel differently and how they see the world differently and how unnerving it can be. We’re just saying read the book, read the stories and think about this when you are jumping to judgment or when you want to have the conversation. We’re not saying this is the end of the conversation.

Joseph K. L:                            I deliberately stay out of race because that’s another 22 volume book, that you really have to drill down on. I think, again, perception becomes a reality and I have talked to hundreds of police officers, I’m still involved in the profession and I deliberately stay out of that. Two things that you had said is that when something goes out on the media and it’s played over and over and over again to get into the psyche of the American public, it confuses good citizens.

Whether it’s race or our force which people have very little realistic information on in regard to what police do, in general, every day. Deadly force, there’s no information, it’s TV and movies. When that video comes out, when you see a video of a partial point of the video, you’re not seeing the entire story or the contours of the event.

Look at a football game, how many cameras does it take to determine what happened, by people who are present and looking at it but yet, they got to go to a camera and look at eight different cameras and eight different angles. If you close your left eye or right eye and you take a view, it can be myopic or in the perspective of the officer. There’s a lot more happening in a 365 degree.

I even have people say, “Well, they did it again. They killed another Black guy for no reason,” and I’d go, “Well, wait a second. We don’t know what happened here.” Again, we’re not excusing poor tactics, horrible situations, tragic circumstances but people, I think our society, sees the same six videos played over and over and over again.

I can drill down on each one, I don’t want to get into that. What I want people to do, what we’d like people to do is let’s expand our mind a little bit and have some conversations about the human beings and the reality. Again, it’s not excusing terrible circumstances. Let me keep going, every single year in this country, 60,000 police officers, and that’s only a week, are assaulted in the line of duty.

It’s happened to me many times and many of my co-workers in Portland here and that’s illustrated in the book as well. There are officers that are shot in the face, they’re crippled for life, they have breathing tubes, they got cinder blocks on the head and the list goes on. Thousands every single year, you don’t hear a word. Very similar to our veterans that you don’t hear about. By the way, the veterans, there’s 22 suicides a day.

The same thing happens as pronounced in police work too because you’re exposed to such a undecided society, difficulty environment everyday with no good answers and is punctuated by violence. Back to the original piece of this, we stayed out of the race problem because it is a problem and it’s a perception and realities and all those things, that’s another whole book. That’s not the point of the work. The point of the work is the human beings and bringing us together with conversations. Makes sense?

Dr. Lisa B:                                Absolutely.

Joseph K. L:                            Okay, because what you’re saying is pretty good. You capture a lot. I can just go on and on because I get passionate about it.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Well, one of the things that, as I was reading the book, I was thinking about my work as a family practice doctor, my father’s work as a family practice doctor, my mother’s work as a teacher. I think don’t think it’s dissimilar in that you take all commerce, somebody crosses the threshold. At least, if you’re teacher or if you’re a physician and you deal with whatever it is in front of you. It’s not necessarily straightforward and it’s not necessarily as simple as, “Oh, here’s a urinary tract infection,” that you’re just going to give antibiotics to. There’s webs of things, you’re dealing with so much back story to so many of these situations. As a police officer, you’re not even in a safe environment necessarily, you go to wherever you’re needed to go and you do whatever they asked you to do. That’s probably about as sub-optimal as any job I could think of.

Joseph K. L:                            Well, you’re thrown into, again, rapidly evolving circumstance. 911 calls comes into this building for instance, with somebody, I don’t know, breaking all the windows out with an ax and going crazy and chasing people around. Now, by the time you get there, things have changed. You may think you’re going in to this environment here or the person has moved over there and there’s all sorts of damage.

You just don’t know, on any given call, what’s going to happen. Now, I’m painting an extreme case but most of the cases we talk about in this book happen on routine calls, a noise complaint, a routine arrest, a check-in on someone, a typical car stop. They explode into these insane cases with violence.

My point is you just don’t know on, any given day, what police officers negotiate each day. Let’s say there was a horrific accident out here when we all get out of the show here. People are dying and dismembered or something like that and everybody here in this room sees that, that’s going to affect you for the rest of your life.

That maybe the first call of the day for the officer and then he or she is going from one difficult situation to the next, trying to calm down. Abused kids, the list goes on and there’s a cumulative effect on the individual overtime. That’s another part of this book too is let’s do something for the holistic health of officers.

In the end, we talked about solutions where we can infuse some funds and money and create good employee assistance and good peer support networks which, by the way, it’s like 5% of police departments have that nationwide. Any profession that values bravery and stoicism, it’s put along the side.

Just like our veterans, you need to take care of the mental health and the emotional components of the job. Don’t you want good officers pulling up and trying to make informed decisions? It’s pretty tough. It’s a tough, tough job. Now, I think more than ever, I think we’re experiencing something in the profession that I haven’t seen since I’ve been involved in this.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Kate, were you surprised by some of the things that you found? It’s relatively recent that employee assistance programs have actually come on the scene, even the training is somewhat inconsistent. Some officers know a lot about weaponry and some officers don’t have quite as much knowledge. When you were writing this book, did you find things that you thought, “Oh my goodness, I never would’ve guessed that.”?

Kate Clark F:                           Not so much. The last book that I did was a Maine game warden’s memoir and after he had spent 25 years in the woods, he said he’d probably pulled 200 bodies out of the woods. He’d gone to New Orleans after Katrina. Because I’ve been doing this for a long time, I was much more focused, I think, on trying to make sure that the impact part of the story stayed in the book. When our editor would say, “I want to cut this here,” I would be saying, “No, because the things that the officer says about his life after this in the next three paragraphs are the critical ones.” What we’re looking for is not simply the incident but the resonance, the impact. I don’t think I was surprised. Joe, what do you think?

Joseph K. L:                            Well, you have experience now. You’ve been doing it for a long time.

Kate Clark F:                           I’ve been doing this for a while. I see one of the roles that I play as being a civilian spokesperson for saying this is a world we don’t know about. I act as a translator, so for me it wasn’t as surprising as it might otherwise had been if I hadn’t been doing this for 15 years. I think it should surprise and have impact on readers.

I think they should be saying I had no idea because, as he says, on Miami Vice, on TV shows constantly, the officer shoots somebody next week and the week after and the week after that. Even when I’m writing fictional cops, I’m always thinking about what’s the actual impact of having seen this thing or been in this situation. I think that’s important for the public, for all of us to understand. I shouldn’t say the public, I am the public.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Are we getting to a place where we are doing better at having conversations across disciplines? I guess what I’m specifically thinking of is we know that we have a drug problem, we know it’s a worsening drug problem. As a doctor, I deal with this all the time whether it’s a baby who is born from an addicted mother or whether it’s the family of a person who committed suicide after not being able to kick an addiction or the patient him or herself. Then you’re from the police force, you have a different view of this, the public has a different view of this. Are we getting better at having conversations?

Joseph K. L:                            We need to get better. We need to get better nationwide because critics of the police conveniently dismiss that the job is inherently dangerous and also, they dismiss statistics and the reality of the work and that’s what this is about. I think we really need to get a lot better. There’s a lot of talk but not about this. Police are ubiquitous, they’re everywhere.

The drug problem, that’s what people are focused on right now. The narcotics and the heroin problem is pronounced. It’s in front of us, we see it everyday. You see an officer sitting in a car or in the open-air, you don’t know what they’re doing, they’re just having a cup of coffee or writing a report maybe.

You have no idea where that person had been. He just might come from a SIDS death, a baby died or a horrible death scene or something really violent. We need to have these conversations and that’s why this book is about the extreme circumstances. Again, going back to where the nation convulsed into this craziness.

In the words of the president, scapegoating the police for all the other problems. Let’s look over here and not here. 17,250 murders in this country, deaths are up 20% from when I started doing the book. That’s a problem. How about two women a day are killed by spouses and guy violence? That’s a problem.

Why are we talking about what’s going on inside the inner cities and the terrible dysfunction and the hopelessness. These poor souls that live in these inner cities and then the police are put in an impossible situation with people who are in impossible situation. They’re not good outcomes. That’s the point of the book, let’s open our minds a little bit.

Expand conversations and not conveniently dismiss like, “Look, the cops did it again,” and go back to the ’60s or ’70s, a lot of people have a tendency to go back in time and think of the police in those terms or in terms of Hollywood. I really don’t think we are getting better, I think we’re getting better when something’s in front of us but from my perspective, I think the police are dismissed frequently.

People have parts and pieces of information from social media or from a reporter, “Yup, this is what happened tonight. We’re investigating it.” You’ll never going to hear anymore about the case which even when we pull up, as a commander that pulls up on a deadly force incident that I’ve been involved multiple times in.

It takes us time to figure out, hours and hours and hours to figure out. “Well, Kate was there,” “What do you mean Kate was there?” “Well, Dr. Lisa was there too,” and wait a second, it just takes a long time and then it takes protracted, multiple investigations from various sources.

From the attorney general officer, district attorney to internal affairs to use of force teams and policies and procedures. There’s a lot, lot more to this. Hopefully, going into the human dynamics behind these things and the humanity and the piercing and painful events that happen, I hope this does and we both hope this breaks better understandings.

Dr. Lisa B:                                I’ve been speaking with Joseph K. Loughlin, the former Assistant Chief of Police for the city of Portland and a published author, along with Kate Clark Flora who is a mystery and crime author who has published 18 books. Thank you for being here.

Kate Clark F:                           Thank you, Lisa. I wish we had another hour.

Joseph K. L:                            Thank you.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Dr. Lisa B:                                Nancy Thompson is an insurance agent who lives in Cape Elizabeth. In 2004, her son Timmy took his life as a result of depression. Since that time, both Nancy and her husband have been speaking publicly about the loss to save other lives. Thanks for coming in.

Nancy Thompson:              Nice to be here, thank you for having me here.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You have a picture of your son, Tim.

Nancy Thompson:              I always take him with me.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Yeah, he’s sitting here with us. As someone who has a son who is now 24, I just remember this age so vividly and I remember just the sense that how could anything really go wrong in life. They’re so energetic, they’re so full of life and yet it did for you. Even looking at your son, it just makes my heart break as a mom.

Nancy Thompson:              Well, thank you. He was an incredible kid. Lots of energy, loved by all, wonderful, wonderful soul. Always had a smile on his face and was the first one to seek out if somebody was not up to par. If they were down and out, he’d be the first one, he’d be the class clown to make them laugh or make them smile or put that long arm around them. He was 6’3″, 175 pounds, long and lean. Just a loving, loving kid.

The sense that Timmy had, he’s very sensitive so he knew when other friends were struggling. He was the go-to kid. Just always, always fun so never, never in my wildest dreams that I ever imagined that he had this internal struggle called depression, that comes on so suddenly and so strong like a ferocious illness that just takes over.

It takes over your mind and he’s still there in that body, he’s still there in that façade but yet, the mind changes so quickly and so dramatically. To my husband, Tim and I, we’re really struggling to try and help him and it was a very short period of time. It’s a time of, like you said, excitement, high school.

They’re coming out sideways because they’re all nervous about which college they’re going to go to, where their friends are going to end up. It’s just very exciting. It’s on the last of all of the things that they’ve done for four years in high school. Suddenly and slowly, his personality started to change just towards the end of the school year.

He turned 18 on May 1st and was so excited about being a true adult and just going out into the world. I could just see a couple of times, he had just grabbed me in the kitchen, I was always grabbing him by the waist because he was so tall and pulling him in just to give me a hug before he left. I could just see in his face, it was different.

It wasn’t Timmy. We knew he was struggling a little bit but didn’t understand the whole process of depression and how it can take over your personality. We started to ask questions, try to get him into a doctor. He had been attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity since childhood and all the teachers would say, “Oh, don’t worry about it.

He’s got a lot of energy. When he grows up, he’ll be a CEO of a company. He’ll be in sales because he’ll have that energy. He’ll coral that energy and he’ll go out and do something wonderful in the world.” We got him to age 18, we got him through the school system, graduating from Cape Elizabeth High School, we did all those milestones. Then, all of a sudden, he started to change. In May, in June and literally, we’re fighting for his life.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It’s not a easy thing to get help for something like this, is it?

Nancy Thompson:              Gosh, no. No. One of my good friends is a psychiatric nurse. I didn’t even think in my own mind to pickup the phone and ask her and say, “These are the types of signs that I’m seeing.” He’s being restless, he wants to stay up at nighttime, he’s sleeping in the daytime where Timmy never slept in the daytime, the eating patterns had started to change. This is all within just a couple of weeks of time. People rack it up for senior summer, they’re busy, they’re not getting sleep, they’re running on empty. In hindsight, everything is perfect but the perfect storm was ahead of me and I didn’t understand what that perfect storm was, with all of the stressors that he had going on in his life at age 18.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Having worked with 18 year olds for a long time as a doctor, they’re not always interested in getting help or interacting and talking about things that are hard. Actually, I think I know a lot of adults this way too but to be an 18-year-old and sometimes not even have the words.

Nancy Thompson:              Independent. Thinking they could figure it out on their own. Looking back, most of his friends, they were so devastated when Timmy took his life because they had no idea, the internal struggle that he had. Just like his family. We’re a really tight family, we ate meals together, we were together, the seven Thompsons were glued together so his four siblings would have done anything in the world.

The kids said that they would’ve been with him 24/7 if they had to and I tell everybody, I would’ve strapped that kid to my back, I would’ve carried him 24/7 had I known six weeks after we started to think that he was having some problems. I wouldn’t have let him out of my sight. As it turned out, he ended up taking his life in our own home while all seven of us were there, trying to help him. We were there together, right at the very end.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It’s been almost 14 years. It’ll be 14 years …

Nancy Thompson:              This July.

Dr. Lisa B:                                This July but it’s still really …

Nancy Thompson:              It’s there, just like yesterday. Yeah, but a lot has happened in almost 14 years. A lot of good has come as a result of Timmy Thompson. I’m not afraid to talk about Timmy and that’s why I take his picture with me everywhere I go because I want people to know that this could happen to their child. I want people to know that a great kid like this could struggle with depression and it could happen to their own family members. We started lots of kitchen table conversations through the years for struggling teenagers.

I wanted parents to ask the questions, see how their kids are, check-in with their kids and we always had an open door policy in our house. All of Timmy’s friends came after we lost Timmy and I said, “I didn’t want a fall out. I didn’t want another kid to take their lives, I wanted them to talk to their own family members but if they weren’t comfortable, come and knock on my door. My door is open.” I would get kids coming in at midnight.

I’d be sitting in my pajamas in my den, looking at pictures of Timmy at midnight and I’d see these eyes peering in and my husband and I would wave them in. They were checking in with us and we were checking in with them, then they come in and talk. That’s all they wanted to do was talk. I think a lot of the times, family members don’t have that opportunity to talk. They don’t really see what’s going on with their kids because they’re so busy with life.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Where did Timmy fall in the line-up? Was he the oldest, was he the youngest?

Nancy Thompson:              No, middle. Middle. I had two daughters, Molly and Emily, they were 14 months apart and then two and a half years later, I had Timmy. He was this bounding energy and I had a harness on that kid from the minute he was 18 months old. You only have two arms but when you get your third child, you have to grab them and pull them in. Then two years later, we had Russell and then another two years, we had Hailey. Three girls and two boys.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Do you think that there was something about being a middle child that made him more likely to try to take care of himself a little bit?

Nancy Thompson:              Probably. Being the first male too, independent. Yeah, no, he was the center of the family because he did bring so much energy to the family. We love the energy because we’d be sitting around and not doing anything, he’d be the first one to say, “Come on, let’s go out. Let’s go outside and play. Let’s shoot some hoops. Let’s do this, let’s do that.” All of kids were pretty athletic so we spent a lot of time outdoors and they all skied and they all played basketball and they all played soccer. I spent my life in a minivan taking them everywhere, but I loved every minute of that. The travel soccer where we’d go to Maryland or Pennsylvania or wherever. Not just my own children but all these other kids so it was a busy, busy time. He added a lot to that energy and it was a lot of fun.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You talk about him being very tuned in to other people, sometimes people who are sensitive and tuned in to other people, they end up carrying burdens for others as well. Do you think that happened for him?

Nancy Thompson:              I totally agree with that. I think in his mind that he didn’t want to be a burden to his family. I think as he was thinking about that and thinking about the life that possibly he could have with his emerging mental health issue, that I think that he thought, in his mind, “I don’t want to be a burden to my family.”

I would give anything to go back and have that conversation with him and say, “Tim, that’s what families are all about. We’re here to support each other.” It’s not only my immediate family but again, I come from a large Irish-Catholic family in Boston with eight kids and my dad was a police chief in the town.

We did a lot of things and having a large extended family who loved and adored him, the ripple effect through the family was just immeasurable because all of a sudden, one minute Timmy was here and the next minute, he was gone. It wasn’t just the impact on our small nucleus, it was the extended family and then the community.

When we lost him, it was just incredible the amount of people that came out because they knew that he really was a great kid. You know how everybody has their moments but he really, truly was a good boy. That’s what a lot of people wanted to pay tribute to that, that he was a kind soul and he was very sensitive.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It is possible to be all of those things and have depression. Depression it’s a biologic process so I’m not sure everybody thinks about it that way. There’s such a stigma that is associated with mental illness, better than it used to be, we’re talking about it more and we’re realizing it more. I have talked to patients who have, for years, suffered with anxiety and depression and don’t want to talk about it with anybody else because they feel embarrassed somehow. Somehow it makes it so that they want to be positive, they want to help everybody else, they want to carry the burdens for other people and they can’t. It feels like a dark place inside of them. Did you ever get that sense with him?

Nancy Thompson:              No, not at all. Not at all. Again, because it came on so suddenly and so quickly at the end of his senior year, that we didn’t have enough time to deal with the depression that had come on so suddenly. I do, when I talk, I hope that by talking about it and being very public about depression, that people will understand that there are people out there to help.

Don’t be afraid of this crazy stigma about mental illness. We all have issues, we’re human. When you talk about it, I just hope that people will have a better understanding. Stop the stigma, be the voice. My youngest daughter, Hailey, has moved to Richmond, Virginia and she’s going for her Master’s. Obviously, her life was changed.

It turned upside down but she’s gone into social work and here’s this little sixth grader who lost her big brother who she adored and now, she’s 26 and going to get married in July. She speaks like me. At the top of a mountain, she spoke in front of a thousand people at a walk and he gives us the courage to go out there and go talk about it.

If we tell our Timmy story, that will save lives. I can’t tell you how many people talk about the stigma of suicide and how afraid they are. The more times you talk to people, the better off you’ll be because you are de-stigmatizing it. People can talk about heart issues or cancer like nothing, but they can’t talk about depression.

That’s one of the things that I tell everybody, I’m going to go to my grave talking about getting rid of the stigma because it’s silly. You will save a life. Put an armor on somebody if they’re struggling. Pickup the phone for somebody, access services, get to know your local support services.

They know it. Your first responders are the people that know when people are struggling. Just go the extra mile for people and I think this place would be a lot better if people weren’t so close-minded about mental health issues.

Dr. Lisa B:                                Why do you think that they are?

Nancy Thompson:              Again, the stigma. People feel like there’s something wrong with me if I have dark periods or something. There’s got to be something wrong with my family. Every family has issues, every family. Nobody’s perfect. It’s amazing the stories that I’ve heard through the years of just the simple acts of kindness that people have done when people are in a dark place, that have saved lives.

Literally saved lives. Opening doors for somebody who is just going to go and take their life because they were so tired of the day-to-day struggle that they had and that person that opened the door and said, “Hey, how’s your day?” snapped them out of it. I’ve heard so many stories from so many survivors, little acts of kindness made all the difference in the world that snapped them out of whatever it was, their thought process at that time.

Dr. Lisa B:                                We’ve been talking more about the depression, talk to me about the suicide. If depression has a stigma, suicide has that in spades I think. It’s such a final solution and I think all of us struggle with that.

Nancy Thompson:              Sure. Well, obviously people take their lives, they’re not in the right frame of mind. We all know that. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Usually, it goes hand-in-hand with somebody who’s struggling with some sort of depressive state and that’s why if somebody is suicidal or if they got suicide thoughts, don’t leave them. Be with them until you can access services that somebody will be there, some professional can help you.

A lot of people will claim that their suicidal and people will leave them unattended and they should have somebody there at all times. You’ve always got to have somebody. If they are tending to talk about suicide and there are enough professionals there, again, the first responders, most of them are trained on crisis intervention training.

They all have these wonderful training models and they are there to help. I think a lot of times, we have to have more people that will be open to helping one another. I think that there’s a fear there that they don’t want to extend themselves. Number one is stay with that person until you can have a professional help you.

Dr. Lisa B:                                What’s just so striking to me is you said that everybody in your family was home. You all were with Timmy and it almost seems as if you were living what you’re telling me other people should live and still, you went through with this. That is just heartbreaking really.

Nancy Thompson:              Yeah, it was. He had gone up into our bathroom and my youngest daughter, when the hair in the back of your neck goes up, she kept checking on him and we were moving him around from his bedroom, downstairs to upstairs. He had the high school pad downstairs in the basement because it was like a rite of passage when you’re going off to college that you got to have a downstairs suite.

He said to me a couple of days beforehand, “Mom, it’s too dark in the basement. I think I want to come upstairs.” We’re all moving his furniture upstairs and we’re shuttling up and down and taking care of all of his clothes and his furniture and painted the room because we knew he was struggling.

He went into our bathroom and Hailey had checked on him just 30 seconds beforehand. The week before, our attic door had broken and we heard bang and we thought it was the attic door coming down, that had broken. It was Timmy, he had shot himself on our bathroom. We had no idea that he had gotten a hold of a gun but he did and it was devastating for all of us. He had a plan in place and it was a difficult, difficult time for all of us.

Dr. Lisa B:                                It sounds like you were doing everything that you could do.

Nancy Thompson:              Yeah, we were. We really were. We were all with him and as I tell all these kids, I think in life they think that the problems that they have at the time are so difficult, that they’re not thinking as adults would. That they’re so severe at that stage that they don’t think clearly enough because obviously, their brains aren’t as developed as adults. Those small problems that they have as teenagers are so dramatic and so large that they can’t conceptualize getting through that problem. I think he just worn himself out. He had some relationships with some friends and he just thought this was his way of checking out.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You talked about your youngest who’s now … ?

Nancy Thompson:              26.

Dr. Lisa B:                                26, getting her Master’s in social work. How are your other kids doing?

Nancy Thompson:              They’re all doing really well. My oldest daughter, Molly, is expecting baby number two. My second oldest, Emily, is in South Korea with her husband, the military, has two children. My son, Russell, is at UNIM, thriving in his job and Hailey is in Richmond, Virginia. They’re all doing really well. The tightness that we always had got even tighter after we lost Timmy. It was almost like now the six of us were here against the world and we got really, really tight. It was nothing that we didn’t hold back from each other because I was nervous, not only for my husband and I, but I was nervous for the other four. I couldn’t imagine going through life losing a sibling and not being able to vent that and not being able to have that security from one another.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You’ve really maintained this positive energy in your life. You served on the board at the Center for Grieving Children and you’ve been associated with the Junior League of Portland for a long time. You obviously do a lot of speaking about Timmy and about your family’s experience and your experience. What have you learned as a result of all of this?

Nancy Thompson:              I’ve learned not to be afraid. I think from all the years that I’ve volunteered with the Junior League of Portland helped me because I volunteered in so many different capacities, working with lots of non-profits in Portland. I knew where to go to, we were instrumental in helping the Center for Grieving Children setup their organization and give them some money early on and provide volunteers.

That was a no-brainer for me. I love the center and the center is just an amazing place. It makes people whole again and I had my entire family, neighbors, friends, whoever was in the house within 48 hours, we were at the center. Patricia Allen who used to work at the center was there and was the facilitator in our deepest, darkest hour.

They were there and if I hadn’t been involved in our community, I never would’ve been able to access services right away. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m one of the lucky ones that had services right away. Then, that gave us the strength to move on but it’s easy to talk about Timmy because he’s the one who’s giving me the strength and the courage to do it. He really has.

I actually ran for public office early on because there was a vacancy and I figured maybe if I ran for office, I could possibly do some legislation for the state of Maine so people wouldn’t be so nervous talking about suicide. As it turned out, I lost. I ran not once but twice but it was a phenomenal experience.

I got to meet so many people in Augusta and I really was able to sharpen my skills in advocacy. One thing led to another and LD 609 was created and now, all the public school systems throughout the state, every person that gets a paycheck from the state of Maine. We had a school bus driver, a cafeteria worker, secretary, a teacher, admin, they all have to have some training in suicide prevention intervention and awareness.

Now, people are talking about it. Not afraid to talk about it. All they have to do is just refer out and it’s a referral. I’m hoping that those referrals would save lives. I think they have. There’s a video channel, they did a video and they show it every year. There’s a lot of really good people that are in the school systems, that have been talking this talk and walking this walk.

They’ve seen these kids come and go and it’s broken their hearts to see a lot of them not be productive members of society because we’ve lost them to suicide. They get it and they’re very appreciative. I get a tap in the shoulder at church or I get a tap in the shoulder while I’m in the Old Port, I get a tap in the shoulder no matter where I am. They say thank you and then that makes all the difference in the world.

Dr. Lisa B:                                I encourage anybody who is having difficulty with depression or thinking about suicide or knows anyone. You don’t have to be a doctor, you don’t have to be a healthcare provider, if you know that somebody is struggling, please do try to access services. There are a lot of people who are out there who are able to help and really small gestures can make a big difference. Please listen to what Nancy has been talking about and take it seriously because this is something that we are all in together. We all need to work on this together with the people in our community. I’ve been speaking with Nancy Thompson who is an insurance agent who lives in Cape Elizabeth. In 2004, her son Timmy took his life as a result of depression. Since that time, both Nancy and her husband, Tim, have been speaking publicly about their loss to save other lives. Thank you so much for coming in.

Nancy Thompson:              Thank you for having me.

Dr. Lisa B:                                You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 334. Our guests have included Joseph K. Loughlin, Kate Clark Flora and Nancy Thompson. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign-up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio, we welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have head about them here. We are pleased that they enabled us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee, our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost, our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick, our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #333: Jill Hinckley and Dr. Robert Snyder

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr Lisa Belisle and you’re listening to Love Main Radio show number 333, airing for the first time on Sunday, February 4th, 2018. Today’s guest are Jill Hinckley, owner of Hinckley Introductions, and Dr Robert Snyder, president of the Island Institute. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                             Jill Hinckley is the owner of Hinckley Introductions, a matchmaking and coaching agency based in Portland. Thanks for coming in today.

Jill Hinckley:                          Thank you so much for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             So you have an interesting business in this day and age. We used to think of matchmakers way back when, then we came into the age of Tinder and Bumble and other apps. But you’re actually, you’re kind of old school. You’re doing stuff the way that it’s been done for a long time.

Jill Hinckley:                          I’m definitely trying to take it back to a more personal connection with people. I like to connect people on a personal and meaningful way, and this is how I do it. It’s real matchmaking. It’s one-on-one, as if you’re meeting a friend of a friend. That’s how I keep working on it being a personal experience for everybody.

Lisa Belisle:                             So you grew up in, you were born in Ellsworth and you grew up in Southwest Harbor. Your grandfather started Hinckley Yachts in 1928, so this is kind of a big departure from the family business.

Jill Hinckley:                          Very big, but not really because our family, we knew everybody that built a Hinckley boat. They came, we knew the whole family. It took at least a year to build a Hinckley boat. They would come up, they would visit. We would have dinner parties with the people that were building their boats. So we really knew everybody, every customer very personally. My grandfather, when he owned the Hinckley company, we only built 12 boats a year. So each family was very important. We knew every boat, name, every customer. That was a long time ago.

Fast forward, picnic boat, a whole different world at the Hinckley company. But that’s how I grew up. I grew up with very personal relationships with people and I loved networking and getting know people. So that brought me into this, yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m guessing that there must have been a few other things that you’ve done in your life prior to now, because this is a relatively new business for you.

Jill Hinckley:                          I’ve been doing it for four years. Yes. After my family … I did work at the Hinckley company, I started when I was in high school giving tours of the Hinckley company. Went to high school, college, would come back and work in the summers on the dock. I worked in retail a lot. I am a mom with five kids, so I did a lot of staying at home with my kids while they were growing up.

Then, started working at the Hinckley company, again in their retail business. Then my father sold the Hinckley company in 1998 and I decided … I had remarried and I decided to move on and do other things. Well what I started doing was doing recruiting in the boat business. So there were other boat companies that were looking for people to work for their company, and I knew a lot of people through the Hinckley company that have worked with the Hinckley company for many years.

So that brought me into recruiting in the boat business. Which I loved, and it’s similar to matchmaking because you’re connecting businesses with employees and people, and getting to know people and interviewing people and understanding what they want, where they’re going, where they want to live. So recruiting in the boat business actually brought me to matchmaking. Kind of a round about way but I ended up here, and I love it.

Lisa Belisle:                             Was there one experience that, some sort of ah-ah moment, where you said, “Matchmaking, I’d be good with this. I think I should do this?”

Jill Hinckley:                          Well, Maine has been, was the tipping point for me, because Maine has incredible people that live here. They’re all different and diverse and have different careers. They live in different places.

I’m a lucky person, I get to live in all different parts of Maine, or go visit all different parts of Maine. So I was meeting people, sometimes from recruiting and sometimes personally, that were incredible people. I kept thinking, “You need to know this person. You need to know this person.” And then I would lose them, I would not be able to connect them.

So I started thinking, because I have all these single people I know, “How do I connect them? Do I use my recruiting skills?” You know, have them fill out my questionnaire, get to know them. So that if I do want to contact them I can reach out and have all their information. So it was really just inspired by all the great in Maine that I was trying to connect on different levels.

Lisa Belisle:                             How do you differentiate yourself as a matchmaker and your business, from the apps that we’ve mentioned? How are the people that come to see you different than the people who might say sign up for, I don’t know,

Jill Hinckley:                          I work with all, everybody. Anybody that comes into my group, there’s different levels. You can simply be in my database. It’s free, you just fill out my questionnaire and you can be free in my database. That’s just one way of putting yourself out there if you’re a single person.

I also coach people. A lot of people I work with are divorced or widowed and they haven’t been out there, and they don’t even know, there are so many incredible options. Yes, there’s Bumble and Tinder and Hinge and and eHarmony, and there’s all these different ways you can step into this dating world. So I do coaching for people, and then I do personal matchmaking.

Personal matchmaking is usually working with somebody who has a very busy life, who prefers not to go online. Probably often times because of their career or something, or just plain busy, busy. Because being online and doing these apps does take a lot of time. People sometimes don’t have that time and they say, “Okay Jill, help me out here.” What I do is I setup the dates. I get to know everybody. I background checks if that’s necessary, and really make sure that these two people are compatible before they even meet.

Lisa Belisle:                             How do you do that?

Jill Hinckley:                          Lots of questions, lots of talking and getting to know them. I try not to have people bring a big list. Like, sometimes people are like, “Okay, these are all the things I want in my next relationship. I want him to ski and do all these things.”

It’s okay to have a few things on the list but I say it’s, how does that person make you feel? How does that person … Can you sit on that porch and talk for our with that person? Is that somebody you really want to spend time with? That’s where I try to get people to focus on, not so much the list but more about the experience of being with that person.

So it’s just me, like a friend. I really get to know them and say … And you know, first dates can be tough but they can also be so much fun. You get to know somebody as a friend. That’s the worst case scenario.

Lisa Belisle:                             I was thinking about our interview with DJ Jon. He was talking to us about people who came in with big lists of do-not-play music, and how challenging that really was for him. And that as a professional, what he preferred was, “Give me a few things that you like, and then just leave it up to me. I know how to do this.” And what you’re saying is a little bit of that. You know, “I’m going to get to know you, and I’m going to make sure that we put you together with somebody who at least foundationally you some things in common.” Does that sound right?

Jill Hinckley:                          Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, obviously there’s going to be some deal breakers for people that are really important. That can be, in this crazy world we live in today, politics can be a big one. So we have to talk a little bit about politics, religion. These are things that are really important to people. So I can see by getting to know them that this is going to be a deal breaker, one way or the other. Or, wow, these two people are very compatible and can talk for hours about this subject. So worst case scenario is their first date, they just really enjoy talking to each other. You found somebody that you agree with on a lot of different levels.

Lisa Belisle:                             so how does that come up in a conversation? Do you immediately put it out there, like, “Who did you vote for?” Or do you let things go a little bit and then kind of see where they might be inclined and then ask?

Jill Hinckley:                          When I interview people and have them fill out my questionnaire, it is a question that I do ask about the politics. Some people feel very strongly about it, some people are very easy going about it, they don’t mind. These are things that I learn just because I’m doing one-on-one, and also having them fill out my questionnaire. So I know them pretty well usually.

Lisa Belisle:                             What are some of the questions that you have on your questionnaire?

Jill Hinckley:                          I ask them about their lifestyle, about politics, their religion, if they’ve been married before, what sports and activities they like to do. I sometimes ask them, “What’s a typical Sunday? What do you do on a typical Sunday?” Because a lot of times that’s the day you have a chance to spend with somebody else, and I like to see that they would do the same things, or enjoy the same things.

What other questions do I have that are on the … You know, obviously age and whether or not they have kids, and whether or not they’re willing to travel to meet a match. A lot of people love to travel to meet somebody, and some people are like, “No, no. I’d rather meet somebody just 30 minutes away from me.” So that’s another big challenge I have, is geography.

Lisa Belisle:                             Are you dealing people who are just within the state of Maine? Or do your matches go all over?

Jill Hinckley:                          I started just in Maine, but I notice a lot of the people I work with either go to Florida in the winter time, or they travel in different parts of Maine, or some people even live in Maine and travel to Boston for work. So there’s a lot of cross-state-lines activity going on. Which really the fun part for me with that is I got involved with other matchmakers.

We have a whole network of matchmakers that I work with. Sometimes I’ll work with Florida matchmakers or I’ll work with a matchmaker in Boston. I actually just opened an office in Boston myself, so I do travel a bit to meet people. That’s so fun. I get to meet the most incredible people. So I cannot complain about that. But yes, a lot people are outside of Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             That’s so fun, the idea that there’s all these other matchmakers out there in the world. I hadn’t really ever thought about that. I guess my daughter has watched a reality show about some sort of matchmaker somewhere, so….

Jill Hinckley:                          I’m sure she has, those are fun.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah. I mean, I knew that that existed but I think it shows that there’s still this need for a personal connectivity, even that you have at your fingertips the computer that you could use or your phone. That some people really just prefer to have somebody that they can talk to who can help them out.

Jill Hinckley:                          Absolutely. I love that, because people have so many questions about this, and no two people are going to have the same experience. Everybody comes at this from a different direction, different point of view, a different experience. And that’s the fun for me, is I get to know them individually, work with them, and I love working with other matchmakers.

If another matchmaker in Boston, for example, has a client they’re working with, they might contact me and see if anybody in my database or anybody I’m working with might match up with their client. She knows, that other matchmaker knows her client. I know my client. So we get together, we talk about our clients that we’re working with. Often times that’s really fun because they go out and have a great date, and you meet somebody you never would have met if you hadn’t signed up with a matchmaker.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do the people that you work with tend to be older? People who, as you just mentioned, maybe are widowed or divorced, or maybe just have never gotten married?

Jill Hinckley:                          Definitely. I work with 40 and up, but I do have other matchmakers that I do work with that work with a younger crowd. It’s just a matter of staying focused on my … I’m 54 years old. I tend to work with that crowd a little bit better than the younger crowd. It’s just a different … but that’s why I think, when you sign up with a matchmaker, it’s really important that you connect with that matchmaker, that you feel like that matchmaker gets you. I just feel like I’m really good with the 40 and up crowd, and maybe not so focused on the younger crowd.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you notice that people who have gone through some of these fairly traumatic things in their lives, loss of a spouse or divorce even. Do you notice that they’re still working through things? Is this ever something that comes up for you in conversation with them?

Jill Hinckley:                          Definitely. Definitely. I mean, you have to be ready. Timing is really important for matchmaking, because we jump right on it. We get excited about meeting you. You know, who are we going to set you up with? So you have to be ready or your schedule has to be. You have to fit this into your life.

And sometimes, emotionally I find that people are just not really ready for this. They’re not really sure how this is all going to play out for them. So another thing I love to do is network with people, life coaches, therapists, make-up artists and photographers. I mean any resource that that person I feel like needs.

Sometimes people haven’t had their picture taken in … I mean, they take pictures of everybody else but they haven’t had a picture taken of themselves in like five years. So I’ll send them to a photographer, and then they’ll be so excited because they finally have a great picture of themselves. It just makes them feel good and that’s a great way to put yourself out. I tell them, “Put it on your Facebook page. Get excited. Go out there and attend more events.”

So yeah, everybody comes at it, and I sort of think of tweaking them a little bit. “Okay, I’m going to send you down this road for a little while,” and then they’re really ready for this. But not everybody comes ready to go.

Lisa Belisle:                             So if they needed to process their grief for example, you could say refer them to a counselor. Or if they just needed some, I don’t know, hair advice, you could send them towards somebody who could help them with maybe something that’s not quite as deep seated. And people generally are okay with this sort of advice coming from you.

Jill Hinckley:                          Generally, yeah. I think they’re generally excited about it. Because this is a big step for a lot of people that haven’t been out in the dating world for a long time, so we try to take baby steps. We don’t want to throw them into this without all the tools they need to get through this experience. So it is baby steps, but hopefully they’re happy with that. Yeah, it works well.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think that some of the patients that I see, that they want to jump right back into. Say maybe they lost their spouse suddenly, and they’ve never been alone and they want to jump right back into a relationship. I have seen this happen more than once, where … Or even a divorce, where somebody, it’s just immediately into the dating pool. And it doesn’t always work out that well because they needed to put some closure on the relationship they had, to grieve that relationship before they could move on. When that happens, do you say, “Hey, come back and see these other people? The counselor, the somebody else that you might meet, you know, your pastor, and then come back in a few months?”

Jill Hinckley:                          Absolutely. What I would suggest in that situation is for those people to be in my database. My database is quite large, because it’s a free database and people come into my database. I only work with 10 to 15 people personally a year. So those people I know, and I don’t sign anybody up for that unless I know they’re ready.

So be in my database is kind of fun for people, because that’s the baby step. And then if I have somebody I’m working with, I’ll contact them and I’ll say, “Okay, how are you doing? Are you ready for this? This is an opportunity I have for you.” And then can pass. They can say, “You know, I’m not really ready right now.” Or, “Yeah, you know, it’s been a few months since I’ve joined your database and now I’m ready.”

I check in with everybody to make sure they are ready for this, and usually they are. I have great, fun people that are using me as one of their resources if they’re in my database, because I want them to be out on Bumble and try new things, be on Facebook.

Non-profits is a really big thing for me. I tell all my single people that I get a chance to, and now I’m on the radio so I can tell them. Go to non-profit events. Join something in your community. Get involved people that are giving to their community. That’s where you want to be. You want to be out and about. You don’t want to be sitting in my database waiting for something to happen. Which is great, I want you to be there too, but also I want my people to be out and about and meeting new people. That’s the best.

Lisa Belisle:                             When you are out and about in various capacities, are you constantly thinking, “Is this person single? She or he could match up with somebody else.”

Jill Hinckley:                          Maybe. Possibly, yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             I can just see the computer kind of going on in your head.

Jill Hinckley:                          My antennas are up. I’m looking all around. Yeah. I try to put myself out there too, because I want to on behalf on my clients be out there, meeting people, networking. And yeah, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s hard to put myself out there because I’m generally not as outgoing as my husband is for example. He’s the one that’s much more outgoing. But we play off each other. He says, “Okay, there’s this event. Let’s go.” And I love that about my relationship with my husband, because it creates this opportunity for me to meet new people and to put myself out there.

Lisa Belisle:                             That’s an important point, that you wouldn’t always want to have your list of what you want in someone, because maybe you actually want somebody who complements you, and it’s possible you don’t even know what that looks like.

Jill Hinckley:                          100% agree with you. Absolutely. If I had had a list, I would not be married to my husband right now. Although we complement each other so well, and we laugh, we have fun, and we have difference that we celebrate about each other. But we also have some core values and things that bring us together. We’re very family-oriented with our kids, and we love to do certain activities together.

One of the things we love is the ocean. We do love to go boating, and that was really important to me because I love the ocean so much, to be able to share with somebody. But we’re very different human beings, very different. Now I laugh about it but at the time I was like, “I don’t know, he’s so different from me.” Yeah, I look for opposites. I think opposites attract.

Lisa Belisle:                             You said you have five kids. What do they all think of what their mamma’s doing these days?

Jill Hinckley:                          Some think it’s really fun and funny, and some are like, “I can’t believe, I’m telling anybody you’re doing this.” No, they’re just, my 15 year old I embarrass her completely. My older kids are 25, 27, 28 and 30, so they’re pretty proud of me because I’m having fun with this. I ask them about all the apps, “Okay, tell me how do you use Bumble?” Because I’m not on these apps, I need them to teach me how to use these apps, and then I pass that information on to my clients. So they’re big help to me. They’re great.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, and to be fair, pretty much any 15 year old, probably 15 year old girl is probably going to have some embarrassment about a parent. So I doubt very much it’s specific to your child and your profession.

Jill Hinckley:                          [crosstalk 00:21:52] not, but yes. Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             You’ve gone through this four other times, so I’m guessing that you have a sense, it will probably shift at some point.

Jill Hinckley:                          Exactly, I hope so. Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yes. What is it that you hope to see your business do? You’ve been doing this for four years. You’ve opened an office in Boston. Where do you hope to go from here?

Jill Hinckley:                          Well, I want us to stay very personal. No, I don’t want to be a big company, but I love being able to meet new people. It brings so much energy to my life and so much fun. I work with my assistant, [Caroline Clement 00:22:32], who I work with. She and I, we talk about different clients together, and who we should introduce to other people. We setup dates. I mean, to keep it going the same way it’s going right now would be the way I’d want to do it. Just as personal as possible.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is it something that’s easily scalable? When you think of business, and you’re doing that’s very personal, and Caroline is doing something that’s very personal, how many more offices in different cities could you actually support?

Jill Hinckley:                          I don’t think I’d want to, but yes, matchmakers do go big. There are some big matchmakers out there that are in New York, California. You can join a matchmaker and they can have multiple offices. So the sky is the limit really in this world. But I prefer to be a smaller matchmaker, more regional in who I’m working with, than to have corporate offices all over the country. But yeah, you can, and I have clients that come to me that live that lifestyle. That say, “I have a home in New York, and I have a home in Maine, and I actually have a place in Santa Fe, New Mexico.” So they might want to work with one of those big matchmakers, because they actually do have offices in all those locations.

So actually, I do refer people to other matchmakers that are doing that. That’s why I say it’s a very personal experience. Each matchmaker has a specialty. I do focus a lot on people that love to sail and the ocean, so I get a lot of that. I market kind of towards that client. Whereas other matchmakers will work with people that maybe travel a lot or are all over. I work with matchmakers in Europe. I’ll have a client that lives in Portland, Maine, that travels a lot and wants to meet somebody outside of this country, so I’ll setup him up, or her up, with another matchmaking outside of this country.

It’s a very vast network that you get to be part of when you join this. I’m part of the Matchmaker Institute. We actually take this very seriously and it’s confidential information that we’re sharing between matchmakers. Yeah, it’s been a very serious career. It’s very fun. It’s great.

Lisa Belisle:                             I had no idea that there was such a thing as a matchmaker institute.

Jill Hinckley:                          And a matchmaker conference, we meet every year and we collaborate and we have guest speakers that talk about social media and all the different things that go with matchmaking.

Lisa Belisle:                             That must be a very social kind of experience going to a matchmaker conference.

Jill Hinckley:                          It’s great. It’s great. They’re great people. They’re really fun.

Lisa Belisle:                             I was going to say, I go to doctor conferences, we’re all a little bit withdrawn. So mostly we just kind of sit by ourselves and occasionally smile to each other. But I’m thinking, if you go to a matchmaker conference you’re probably very outgoing with one another.

Jill Hinckley:                          Right. Sometimes we bump into problems. There will be things, that we’ll have a difficult situation that we’re trying to navigate, and the matchmakers will help each other. We actually have a closed Facebook page that we talk to each other, if there’s something that comes up that we need to figure out, or get someone else’s advice. That’s another reason, it’s I’m not alone when I’m doing this. So I don’t know why I would need to expand too much, because I have this resource right here that I can talk to matchmakers all over the world.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jill tell me about your one favorite success story.

Jill Hinckley:                          My one favorite success story.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m sure you have many.

Jill Hinckley:                          Right. Okay. I have … I can’t tell you anything about the person because her life is very private. She was living outside of Augusta. She contacted me. She found me on the internet, and she has a fascinating career, but I couldn’t tell anybody what her career was. I had to screen everybody extensively before they met her. So I had to make sure that they didn’t have a criminal record, but they also couldn’t have worked for certain state agencies, and they couldn’t have … The screening process was really extensive, that I was putting people through to meet her.

I was worried that, boy, I was going to scare people off, because I couldn’t tell them anything about her. But she was so interesting, so intelligent. I would be talking to her for hours on the phone, getting to know her, but then I couldn’t tell the person that she was going to meet on the first date her last name. I mixed up her first name so that they would never be able to Google her and find her. It was like a very extensive process. I think I set her up on three dates. By the third date she met this guy that I had known. I had been meeting … You talk about not being ready, he wasn’t really ready. He had come and I’d met him, but there was timing.

Then I just had this moment where I thought, “This guy is perfect for her.” So I reached back out to him, set them up on a date. And gosh, they were, immediately, they were both a little quirky but oh my gosh, they had so much fun. They connected on so many levels. So for her to be so happy, and I actually think that they’ve been going, they’ve been spending, they’ve been together for several months now. She’ll check in with me and tell me how happy they are. I’m just so happy, because she really was one of those people that could not put herself out there at all, and had to be really careful about who she met. That does make it a little challenging for a matchmaker, because I can’t tell anybody much about her, so a lot of people are very apprehensive, but she’s really happy. I love that.

The other people I have in matchmaking is I cannot give you much information about who I work with. So testimonials are hard, because my clients want to have a pretty private experience with this, and I get that. So I’m pretty careful about not giving too much information out.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, it sounds to me like you have people that are coming to work with you who’d kind of understand that, that testimonials are just not going to be a thing. Which is probably not the worst thing, right?

Jill Hinckley:                          Right, right. Although it’s frustrating because I want to just tell everybody how much fun this is and who I setup, but I can’t. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can tell people. I ask them if it’s okay, if I can say that I introduced you or something. But yeah, I’ve been doing it for four years now, so I have a lot of couples that have met each other. And sometimes I lose track of them too because I might introduce them, and sometimes people will meet and then they decide it’s not a match, but then they connect later and then they are going out. I’m like, “Wait a minute. I thought … ” So yes, people are moving around, a little bit hard for me to track them down.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, I appreciate you’re coming in and talking with me today. I’ve been speaking with Jill Hinckley who is the owner of Hinckley Introductions, a matchmaking and coaching agency based in Portland. Thanks for the work you’re doing.

Jill Hinckley:                          Thank you so much. That was really fun.

Lisa Belisle:                             It was really fun, I agree.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, where everybody is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             Dr Robert Snyder is the president of the Island Institute. He is responsible for working with island and coastal leaders in Maine to identify and invest in innovative approaches to community sustainability. Nice to have you here today.

Rob Snyder:                           Thank you very much for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s okay for me to call you Rob.

Rob Snyder:                           Please, it’s my preference.

Lisa Belisle:                             What is your doctorate in?

Rob Snyder:                           It’s in cultural anthropology. That turns out to be a fairly useful degree despite my parents’ concerns. What they do teach you in anthropology is how to turn people into your teachers, how to learn to listen and how to write. I can’t imagine skills that would be more important than entering the coast of Maine from away and trying to navigate your way.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was your focus? If you are an anthropologist who has a doctorate, there must have been some area of study.

Rob Snyder:                           Sure. I began actually in China with a focus on international development and the critique of international development. So it’s a little bit ironic that I now run a community development organization, but that’s my background. I moved from there to focus on Maine fisheries, big shift. Left China, came to Maine, and started to focus on the privatization of the ocean as a process that was underway here. There was a major piece of work that took place around 2010, where New England fisheries moved to a new management system. Where quota became the management device, the idea that you could own pounds of fish in the ocean with a permit. So I was part of studying the creation of that program, that management system, and I did that for my PhD ultimately.

Lisa Belisle:                             You’re from Cleveland, Ohio.

Rob Snyder:                           That’s correct.

Lisa Belisle:                             So, China and fisheries didn’t necessarily enter into your early childhood years I would guess.

Rob Snyder:                           No. I’ve always made quality of life choices once I had the chance to make those choices. So I lived out west after living in Cleveland for a decade. Then I moved to Toronto where I did my PhD, and then after my wife and decided we wanted to live somewhere where it would be great to raise our family. I either wanted to live in The Rockies or on the ocean, and so because of her family being from New England we chose Maine and the ocean. That was 15 years ago.

Lisa Belisle:                             What has it been like to go from this, I mean Cleveland is a fairly big urban developed part of the United States, China is obviously, urban, developed. And now you’re working in Maine and you’re working with very small communities. How has that been like from a mindset shift?

Rob Snyder:                           It was really difficult. It took a long time for me to figure out how to make sense of where I had landed in Maine. Took me literally five or six years, at least, before I started to feel like I could understand what was going on around me, because of the tight-knit nature of the communities and the people’s reliance on each other. These were not skills I was raised with. I tended to live in place that had been the outcome of sprawl. So people building rings further and further out into the countryside from Cleveland. Each generation of my family lives farther and farther from the city center, and that’s just kind of the way I experienced growing up.

There was a element to it which I think you would find in many different areas of the country. There was the idea that I was kind of coming from anywhere in the country. So the idea that you could come from a fairly ambiguous anywhere, and land in a very specific somewhere, where people have an incredible attachment to place and pride of place, and frankly a cautionary kind of acceptance of people, was really interesting and challenging. When I realized the intensity of the identity that people have who are from here, it also made me realize the way I need to position myself relative to that is pretty important, particularly working in a non-profit.

Lisa Belisle:                             So how did you position yourself? How have you been … I guess, it’s probably a work in progress, I would assume.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. No, I think I’m definitely a work in a progress. The way that I’ve started out and where I’ve kind of been for a number of years, is this idea of the professional outsider, right? Because people seem pretty willing to allow you to be in place here in Maine as somebody who acknowledges their away-ness. Far more so than if you show up and you try to claim any sort of origin from here.

It’s been very I think in a way safe and productive to say even, “I am from away, and there can be value in that. Let me try to articulate that value.” So I spend a lot of time trying to provide value to coastal and island communities based on my very specific position as an outsider.

And then 15 years later, continuing to navigate that, but also now with children in schools and with a attachment to my community, recognizing that there are ways in which people are more willing to hear what I have to say, but there’s still plenty of skepticism. And I think that’s why the coast and islands are so beautiful and different, is because of that caution and concern for continuity in place, right? That people want to … change comes hard here, and because it comes hard it keeps these places really special, and that’s wired into the DNA of those who have been here for generations.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting to hear you say this, because obviously we all know that you can’t be from Maine unless, not only you were born in Maine, but you also have several generations back.

Rob Snyder:                           It’s my understanding.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yes.

Rob Snyder:                           So my kid’s kids-

Lisa Belisle:                             Exactly.

Rob Snyder:                           … will finally be able to claim status, potentially.

Lisa Belisle:                             Potentially, yes. [crosstalk 00:37:05]

Rob Snyder:                           Depends how they behave.

Lisa Belisle:                             Exactly. And yet, there are so many people who are coming in who are supporting island communities who are not from Maine at all, weren’t born here. Maybe they have a summer connection, maybe they went to summer camp and feel a connection to Maine, but there isn’t the same type of background.

So I would think that that would be one of the challenges of the Island Institute is working with, is that people can contribute in really wonderful ways and be very different people from very different places, but it’s still a small community.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. I think one of the challenges is figuring out how to draw attention to and celebrate the ways in which people who may be globally networked and have significant resources can participates in the future of these communities. It’s a huge part of the struggle that these communities are engaged in on a year to year basis.

And so what I’ve found, my experience has been that there are very important people in each community. There are groups of people who I kind of view as bridging personalities. People who may be from the community but have gone away and returned, or people who have been summering for many generations in these communities but they’ve built the trust of many different communities within any one of Maine’s coastal communities. And those bridged personalities play a hugely important role, primarily a communication role, which is about helping people talk about and think about how they’re interests can be joined together from all the different facets of any small community.

I mean, some of the communities we work in have 35 people or 45 people, and 45 different points of view much of the time. As a result, you know, it takes a very special person to be able to navigate that, to be able to allow people to feel heard on all sides, allow people to make community-wide investments in their future. Whether it’s in their school or some other challenge that they’re trying to address.

Lisa Belisle:                             So your background in cultural anthropology might actually be a benefit in this situation, where you can observe what is going on and figure out the best way to involved or step back, depending upon the needs.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah, I think one of the things that I really enjoy is helping people connect with each other and helping people connect the dots. One of the things that you have when you are not of the place and is a bit of an opportunity, that you don’t have the political weight of your family history, which is significant.

So where and when that can be helpful, to say, “Hey, here’s a resource over here you might consider,” or, “Here’s a person over there you might talk to.” That can be a useful way to help people move community issues forward. I just have to say, I don’t think I answered that question very well, so …

Lisa Belisle:                             Actually I thought it came up fine. I don’t know.

Rob Snyder:                           Well, can you say the question again?

Lisa Belisle:                             Spencer, are you happy with the answer? Does it seem like it made sense? I mean essentially I asked, does your background in cultural … It seems like your background in cultural anthropology might be helpful.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. I think, I mean it’s been very helpful for me to figure out how to navigate all of this. I feel like one of the things that you have to do when you’re working in and partnering with community leaders, is understand that whatever problem you’re trying to solve, whether it’s attracting and retaining families, or whether it is about dealing with the threats of storm surge, or whether it’s dealing with the way the lobster industry is generating wealth or creating different types of social issues. Every one of those challenges, often people are looking for folks with resources to bring to bear on answering that question. So if you can hear the question really well and you can actually understand the nuances of the questions that people are trying to answer in their community, then you are better prepared to bring the right resources to help them answer it.

Lisa Belisle:                             You know, that’s such an interesting perspective on things, because I know that when I’m with a patient one-on-one, in a situation, or a patient’s family, often the question that’s being asked or the statement that’s being made is not the real question or the real statement. So there’s a teasing back to try to determine what the actual issues are, and that requires a lot of trust. It requires a lot of relationship building. It requires both people, or all the people involved be open to talking things out, to hashing through problems. And that’s not something that everybody, and I’m not saying I’m perfect at it, but it’s not something that everybody feels that comfortable with doing, nor are we trained to do it.

Rob Snyder:                           Right. No, I think that’s a great observation. I mean, I think about how busy people are in their daily lives and how many different hats they would wear on a given day in a community. They might be on the school board and on the select board, and they’re also an EMT, and they’re involved in … they have so many different things going on.

And so when you come and want to talk about how you can be helpful, you’re a burden in asking the question even. So trying to provide the space … So right to your point, this is where trust really does matter, where relationships and real intention to care and to act and not just to sit and think about other people’s challenges is really important. If we don’t actually find a way to be responsive we would lose the trust.

People finally, after 34 years, not finally but just, you know, certainly over time people have become much more willing to give us that time to share their stories and their concerns, with the expectation that something will come of it. Right? That something will happen. And that’s just, I think to me very much fundamental to being successful in our work, is that, are those relationships and that trust that comes with being responsive.

Lisa Belisle:                             The Island Institute, although it’s 34 years old, has not had that many people who were president. So you’re in a fairly small lineage.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah, I’m number two.

Lisa Belisle:                             So how has that been for you? To have one person who was the head for many, many years, and then for you to be the second person. The first person I believe was one of the founders.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah, Philip was the founder. Philip Conkling was the founder of the Island Institute, and then there’s a co-founder, Peter Ralston, who came along shortly after. I worked with them for a long time before I became the president of the organization. They taught me a lot. A lot about the difficulty of navigating community politics, the challenges of building the funding base for an organization, about … I mean, one of the things I really enjoyed about being mentored by both of them was their consummate passion for storytelling.

They were both, they both are incredible storytellers. And so there’s so much heart in the way they cared about telling the stories of the coast of Maine in images and words, and that’s something that I’ve known I really want to hold onto. Because I do think that’s how you amplify people’s voice. It’s how you empower people to try things out and to take risks, by helping them tell their stories.

And so, they were incredible. Being number two was … So far I think I’ve defied the odds. Most people say, “You don’t want to be the one that comes after the founder. You want to be the one that comes after the one who comes after the founder.” But hey, I’m only four years in, so I’ve got ways to go.

Lisa Belisle:                             The Island Institute does have very beautiful publications, and has had it seem like going back to the beginning.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah, it was the first thing they ever did, was the Island Journal.

Lisa Belisle:                             And I think when you say the importance of story is really significant, I think that can’t be understated. That people, unless they actually have a way of understanding what is going on in these communities, you wouldn’t be able to come, take it from your own life. I eman, you could relate in many ways, but it’s so special and specific.

Rob Snyder:                           I think so. I think it’s about, because it’s about identity, right? It actually is about how we remind ourselves of who we are. It’s where we talk about the struggles over who we’re becoming? And so the better job we do at capturing that in words and images, the more likely we are to help people navigate the day-to-day challenges that they deal with.

I think the journal, which is primarily something that goes to our members, a number of whom are island and coastal residents, is this incredible celebration of island and coastal … actually it’s really a celebration of island life and culture. But then the newspaper, which has a much, much broader readership, that really does on a monthly basis remind us of who we are, what our values, what we care about and what we’re concerned about. It think that to me is a, as an anthropologist, a major identity project. That’s how we’re going to continue to talk about and struggle over our future and who we’re becoming.

Lisa Belisle:                             One of the most fascinating things that I’ve learned working as a writer for Maine Magazine, previously as a writer for other publications, is that, the idea that you can’t fact-check something and that there is a truth that we can come to and understand, is really a fallacy. That you can check numbers, you can check dates and spellings, but the more important thing for people is often what they said and how they’ve said it, and the way they’re portrayed. In a small community and as someone who writes about small communities and represents them, that must be an interesting balance for you.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. I mean, I think to me it’s one of the greatest responsibilities the organization has, is to be very careful about that, frankly, the power wrapped up in representation. So to me, we’re at our best when it’s actually other people speaking for themselves, rather than the Island Institute speaking for.

I think that the singular authoritative voice speaking on behalf of anybody is long done, and we’re certainly coming to a close. What we want to figure out how to do now is to kind of facilitate and curate the creation, the representation of people in their own words. That’s kind of how we’re moving.

So rather than the expression of these communities as something you move past or through in visual and words, how do we actually have communities represented on their own terms, for selling their own stories and where we are simply facilitating and curating. So that the best quality version of that can be made available. That is a major emphasis in how we’ve continued to evolve our media work. I think things like virtual reality give you an even more intense opportunity for people to tell their own story from their own perspective in ways that …

And you know, I think shows like this do it as well because it is in the inflection of a voice or you know, in a local statement or colloquialism, that you actually get a real sense for where you are and where people are coming from.

Lisa Belisle:                             What are the major issues that you are working on right now?

Rob Snyder:                           Sure. Well, ultimately we’re very concerned about the economic base of the coast of Maine being so heavily reliant on the lobster fishery and tourism, primarily third quarter earnings from tourism. And so we’re really trying to figure out how we can broaden the economic opportunities available to people now and in the future.

There are a few major focus areas that have to do with that. So building out from the lobster fishery, trying to … we’re working with fishermen who are interested in entering into the aquaculture business, shellfish and kelp aquaculture in particular, because of the related skillsets and infrastructure that many fishermen already have. It’s a fairly … I want to say, there are some risks involved but it’s risk that can be understood and mitigated if people are interested in diversifying their marine income. Kind of back to the identity issues, right?

One of the things we know is really important is that people care that they’re living requires some significant connection to the sea. Whether or not it’s fishing for what’s here today or what’s here tomorrow, that is a huge part of the coast of Maine’s identity. And so we know that was look to the future economy, we want to make sure that we retain that important connection.

And then in addition to that, looking to your point about whether people are here and going away and returning, or coming from elsewhere. We know that the state of Maine’s broadband infrastructure on the coast is essential to diversifying economic opportunities for people. There’s tremendous amount of stranded talent in communities. People who have gone away, gotten their education, and can’t put it to work in the ways that they would like. And so we do see broadband as a fundamental issue for the economic future of the coast. Certainly this is something people recognize nationally, but I think we have a unique opportunity to do something about it here.

And then the last thing I’ll point to is the work we’re doing to help people save on energy. We are a very high cost energy state. The coast and islands are even more so. And so these communities have to be places where businesses will want to locate, and the cost of energy is a major disincentive, but also just the cost that we spend on home heating. What we spend in Maine to heat our homes is in particularly the highest in the nation, and so anything we can do there will help people find Maine a more attractive place to stay or to move to.

Those are some of our key issues, and then underneath that, you know, we are working quite a bit on workforce development related to those outcomes, and also leadership development in communities related to those outcomes. So yeah, it’s really about strengthening community economies. It’s about workforce and leadership, and then all that media work we’ve talked about is really about sharing what works from place to place, and helping people speed up the rate at which they solve problems.

Lisa Belisle:                             You mentioned before we came on the air that despite the fact that I think of Cleveland as being kind of landlocked, I know there’s a big lake there. As I have mentioned to you, I’ve been there. There actually is a significant island culture, [crosstalk 00:54:05] the great lakes.

Rob Snyder:                           Around the great lakes we have learned over the last six or seven years now we’ve been working with the Office of the Great Lakes, which is based in Michigan. They became very attracted to the Maine islands because there are 16 island communities in the great lakes, year-round island communities that actually share many of similar challenges around affordability, around access to broadband and future economic opportunity.

So yeah, they’ve been working with the Island Institute. We’ve been connecting them to the Maine Island’s Collation and to Island leaders in Maine, you know, learn how the coast of Maine has gone about connecting island communities. Through us we’re helping a couple of different organizations in the Michigan area figure out how to replicate the Island Institute.

Lisa Belisle:                             That seems like it would be a little bit surprising. Here you are from Ohio, and you’re background actually has some relevant to the work you’re doing in Maine.

Rob Snyder:                           Yeah. I feel like I’m really more and more aware of the fact that really what we are working on are challenges that remote communities everywhere are dealing with. When I lived in the high mountain west, I saw this. We’ve been invited to the Outer Banks and to the Virgin Islands and to the Gulf of Alaska. In each of these places there are island, many different kinds of island communities, whether they are landlocked or not, there are island all over the place.

And so they’re curious about the Island Institute and what can be learned from the coast of Maine’s island and coastal communities. I think as we move forward as an organization we have to figure out what role we want to play in being the host to that type of learning. I do think the coast of Maine is … I do think there’s a real opportunity and it’s happening, that the coast of Maine is viewed as a place where you can come to learn about community sustainability from people here who’ve solved really challenging problems in really practical ways. I think it appears that the leaders we work with here are happy to tell their story.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’ve been speaking with Dr Robert Snyder who is president of the Island Institute. He is responsible for working with island and coastal leaders in Maine to identify and invest in innovative approaches to community sustainability. This has been a fascinating conversation. I think what you’re doing is very interesting and I really appreciate the time that you have taken to come here today, and also the work you’re doing with the Island Institute.

Rob Snyder:                           Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, where everybody is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio show number 333. Our guests have included Jill Hinckley and Dr Robert Snyder. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr Lisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Brittany Cost. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy. And our executive producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano and Dr Lisa Belisle. For more in on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #332: Matty Oates and Jessica Jordan

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 332. Airing for the first time on Sunday, January 28, 2018. Today’s guests are Matty Oates, former program director of Tall Ships Portland and young breast cancer survivor Jessica Jordan, this year’s top fundraiser for Tri for a Cure. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                             Matty Oates is the former program director for Tall Ships Portland and he currently works as media manager at Shipyard Brewing Company. He and his brother also host a podcast called Bach to Bock in which they discuss both classical music and beer. Thanks for coming in.

Matty Oates:                          Thank you. Happy New Year.

Lisa Belisle:                             Thank you. So did I pronounce this correctly, Bach to Bocks. It’s B-A-C-H and then B-O-C-K.

Matty Oates:                          Bach to Bock, yeah. It’s seen a lot of variations over the years. Bach being Johann Sebastian Bach the composer and then B-O-C-K, Bock is a type of German beer. We thought we were pretty clever when we came up with that name. There was beer involved in creating that name as well so it came out pretty well.

Lisa Belisle:                             How long have you been doing this podcast.

Matty Oates:                          We just hit two years. We’ve gone through a little bit of a lull at the moment just because both of us lead fairly busy lives. Getting content out there’s been a bit tough recently. But it’s always a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of great chances to interact with the local music community and both beer and classical music community around the country as well through phone interviews or visiting musicians. It’s been great.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is this becoming more popular? Beer and classical music?

Matty Oates:                          From our very biased perspective I’d like to think so. There’s a great organization of talent run by the PSO called Symphony in Spirits. Takes young folks from 21 to 39 and rotates through different local watering holes before PSO concerts. There’s either a beer or a cocktail designed specifically for the program coming up. For 25 bucks it’s a chance for young people to mingle, learn a little bit about the program before they all they just walk down to Merrill Auditorium and get to see an amazing performance. All in all the scene’s coming up slowly but it’s coming up.

Lisa Belisle:                             I remember interviewing Emily Isaacson and she had beer happening on beach blankets in the summertime and at the bowling alley and she’s really trying to bring this back to into the more popular vernacular.

Matty Oates:                          Yeah. Why not? We’ve created this mystique around classical music that you need to sit in a seat and be completely docile and quiet and we love the idea that if you really appreciate, just like a jazz musician, a solo finishes, it shouldn’t be taboo to express that in some way, shape or form. There used to be beer concert halls, why can’t there just be beer again? We think it’s a good combo it breeds, in moderation it breeds a really good time, a really good night out.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you still play the violin.

Matty Oates:                          Absolutely. I still teach a bit as well. Kevin and I both, my brother Kevin Oates, both started quite young. I saw Elmo playing on Sesame Street with Itzhak Perlman the great violinist when I was three. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. So after pestering my parents weeks in weeks out, I finally started taking around four years old and now it’s just a great release. It’s like an old friend. But Kevin’s taken it to a much more professional degree whereas I keep it on the back burner.

Lisa Belisle:                             He’s working with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra and also the Maine Academy of Modern Music is that right?

Matty Oates:                          He did in the past but Kev’s now out on his own as the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra is its own nonprofit entering their, they’ve just past their third year. They’ve just released a documentary as well about their tour that they took. The Maine Youth Rock Orchestra for those who don’t know, it’s a chance for students 12 to 18 to take their classical instrument or their orchestral instruments and play with visiting rock bands. They’ve played with Spencer Albee, they’ve played with what’s him name? They’ve played with Guster this past year at Thompson’s Point. Gregory Alan Isakov, lot of great names. It’s a chance for kids to realize that their instruments aren’t just to be relegated to the formal concert hall but they can take it and they can use it in every way, shape and form in every genre of music out there. It’s a really wonderful nonprofit. People should check it out.

Lisa Belisle:                             So you’re actually now doing the media for your brother.

Matty Oates:                          Oh no.

Lisa Belisle:                             I was just kidding. I was just kidding. Just putting that nice plug in. He’s appreciative of that, the sibling love that you were giving him.

Matty Oates:                          Oh go yeah. No absolutely. He’s the reason I moved here to Maine. I was out overseas for a very long time and I just saw him doing really amazing things here with MYRO and I saw a chance to come back to the US and he was the reason. And hence Portland. And I got to see him build this thing from nothing to a really successful nonprofit.

Lisa Belisle:                             Where did you grow up?

Matty Oates:                          Albany New York. It’s on the way to everywhere but there’s a lot of people from upstate New York that have come up to Portland. I don’t know what that says about both places but we grew up on a farm in Albany New York and we used to come up to Ogunquit. Our grandparents had a cottage there since the 40s so from the earliest age we were just running on Ogunquit Beach. And then the early 90s when it blew up and Route 1 became a parking lot and so Kev went to school at USM Gorham and he came back then afterwards and then I followed so we’ve always had this love affair with Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             What were you doing in Europe?

Matty Oates:                          I was racing classic yachts. We were based out of the south of France. Yeah, it was the greatest job of all. It was 1911 big boat classic called Mariquita. There was only four made back in the day. It’s the equivalent of the America’s Cup boats of today. It was based out of the south of France and we would spend the summers racing around the Mediterranean and hitting up all through the Rivieras and the Balearics and and then the winter we would just take care of this boat which needed an amazing amount of work. And just traveling and exploring. It was fantastic.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m trying to remember my geography but I don’t think that Albany has a lot of ocean around it.

Matty Oates:                          It does not have a lot of ocean. You are absolutely right. When I tell people I used work on boats, that’s actually the first thing they say is, “There’s not a lot of oceanfront.” My very first boat was the sloop Clearwater which was started by Pete Seeger back in the late 60s. He had built this as a replica of a 17th Dutch sloop to bring focus back to the cleaning up of the Hudson. This was right around the time of the 1972 Clean Water Act. That huge spurt of environmental legislation around that time. This a rallying point for him to start cleaning up the river. That was my very first boat. I had gone hitchhiking abroad for five months when I was 18 and I came back and I just took the first job that I could find which happened to be on this boat. I’d never sailed before. That was the beginning of the end.

Lisa Belisle:                             That unusual isn’t it? Don’t most people get into sailing or boats because they’ve grown up with it essentially?

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, I was one of the few people that hadn’t ever been on a boat before. Everyone else had grown up sailing Optis and J-boats. Especially around here in Maine sailing is such a, Casco Bay is one of the greatest spots in the world to grow up sailing. That was, I was a rarity in that case. But I just fell in love with it. I wasn’t even onboard the boat, I was still a quarter mile away and I could see the top of the mast from over this hill and that was it, I was a goner.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was it that I guess spoke to you about that? That scene, the top of the mast that was calling to you from afar?

Matty Oates:                          I still don’t know if I can put it into words but it is, in the beginning, there’s the romance of it. There is what we all picture tall sailing to be or sailing of old to be. Wind through your hair, salt spray and all that jazz. That is the hook. That’s what got me in. But then everything else that came after. The intense discipline. The need to care for the ship, care for your shipmates. An amazingly tight community and honestly the life skills that came out of it I think it was probably the best education I could have ever hoped for.

Just the learning empathy, learning, not that I didn’t have it before but being able to realize small social dynamics within a team and really trying to take that on and come up with a great result each day and learn to keep a cool head when everything’s falling apart around you. When stuff’s breaking, when there’s a storm at four AM and you are in the middle of the Atlantic. That kind of stuff that’s a forge that you don’t find a lot of other places. That’s what kept me, just this completely different universe.

Lisa Belisle:                             You worked as the program director for Tall Ships Portland. Tell me about that.

Matty Oates:                          I came to Portland, came off boats, came to Portland and again was going to just take on any job that came my way. I was just happy to be around my brother again. We were just perusing jobs online one night and Kev goes, “Matty, you seen this?” And sure enough here was a call for a program director for the local nonprofit 501C3 Tall Ships Portland. They were formed in 2015 to help put on the Tall Ships Festival that came through that year. They were going to take on their first full-time employee. I sat down with their board president, Alex Agnew and were meant to have a quick 30 minute coffee, it ended up as four hours talking about sailing. As sailors do we just ramble which I’m doing right now. That was the beginning of the end.

We had two great summers of sailing programs. The main mission, most people think it’s a nonprofit that does events. The events help fuel the real mission which is youth education at sea. The idea that getting teenagers out, high schoolers out is one of the best ways that they can, I don’t even know the right word here, it’s one of the best educations they can ever hope for. They learn how to sail but the sailing’s just almost a metaphor, it’s just the best classroom. They learn the same things I got to learn. They learn true teamwork and the idea that this is not going to get from point A to point B unless everybody pitches in. Everyone’s on ground zero. No one is the cool kid, no one’s the nerd, no one’s the jock. It is everyone’s out of their element and they are given a challenge that they have to rise to meet otherwise they don’t get to where they’re going.

Thankfully with the help of Falmouth assistant principal John Radkey, he also accredited their summer one week program. So now kids who go out sailing with them also get a semester’s worth of high school credit which is a really great validation of that education as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you think that that’s something that we’re lacking in today’s educational system and not to dis teachers ’cause my mom was a teacher, I think that they work very hard and do a great job but is there something about teamwork that maybe we could use a little bit of extra?

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, I agree with you there. Both my parents are teachers as well and it is an intensely difficult job to be a teacher especially nowadays in an age where kids can pull up an answer to a question on their phone usually faster than a teacher can even say it. But yeah, utilizing different classroom, especially a classroom where it forces people to put the phone down and turn their eyes up, that’s a huge benefit that I think people still are hesitant to latch onto. Again, they do learn how to sail but the actual lesson is so much more. It’s just a great classroom. You can teach anything on it. You can teach physics when you’re talking about friction coefficients and pulleys. You can talk about the Bernoulli Principle, what makes airplanes fly with the idea of a lift over a curved surface when you’re looking at sails. You can teach how to clean a toilet. Anything at all. You can teach trigonometry with astronavigation. Any subject you can possibly think of, it can be taught onboard these boats. It’s an intensely useful tool.

Lisa Belisle:                             What I was wondering about was the way that it seems that we have gone is a very competitive direction with our kids. And I have three so I’ve seen that this has evolved over time. That it seems often very individually focused especially in the suburbs we have a lot of, it’s very important for people to get into the right schools and in order to do that they’re sometime clawing over each other in order to be the best. Which is understandable but in the end when you get out of your great education, you still need to be able to work with people. I’m wondering if this is something that Tall Ships and other organizations like it can fill a void with.

Matty Oates:                          Absolutely. Tall Ships is just one of so many great organizations that offer that here in Maine. Ripple Effect is another. And you’re absolutely right, individual ambition is fantastic and it has driven so many wonderful things but you’re right, at the end of the day, not everyone can go it alone and do you need to know how to work with a team and when to give and when to push and when to compromise and when to support and that sort of thing is taught through all these great experiential modes. That was probably, I was a jerk when I was growing up. I was so up myself and not outwardly but I was right about everything and learning to just shut up and listen was a great lesson onboard these things. And realizing I don’t have all the answers all the time and it’s okay to be wrong and it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to do these things. And realizing how I fit into the larger puzzle of a team was instrumental growing up.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think it’s also something that I’ve seen with musicians who work for a long time with other musicians that especially when I’ve watched Spencer because he’s our producer for our radio show, seen how he interacts with his team and it really is, you really have to learn to read one another. You have to learn to give. You have to learn to take and it seems like that’s something that actually comes over time. So it’s not necessarily something that you can get out of even a semester working in a classroom together.

Matty Oates:                          It’s true. It would be piece of a much larger puzzle and experience is the best educator. I hate to quote it ’cause I just saw it yesterday but Star Wars when Yoda says, “Failure is the best teacher.” Yeah, it takes messing up, it takes a lot of different classrooms. To refer to a lot of different forms of education but it takes a long time to get there. The semester or even just a week onboard a boat it’s so intensive. It’s like immersion learning where you’re chucked into a completely foreign environment and your senses have to be firing all the time. It does help. I’ve seen some students make amazing transformations. Not everyone and there’s really no predicting who it’s really going to resonate with but there’s some students who have come back as completely different people. In a very short amount of time.

Lisa Belisle:                             Does it also help you to listen, to learn to listen to yourself versus, you talked about turning the phone off ’cause sometimes when you’re out on the ocean you don’t have access to the internet. And paying to the world around you but also to pay attention to yourself and your intuitive response to things or even your learned response to things like the weather or other people?

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, trusting one’s gut is something I’ve learned and talking about messing up. I’ve learned the hard way. Times where I’ve had the gut feeling and ignored it and then stuff’s gone wrong. That education’s been wonderful in the idea that now when I have that gut feeling I react to it. Even now it may be wrong but nine times out of ten it’s been the right thing. Like you say, with weather, you’d rather have prepared for it and be wrong than throw caution to the wind and then be wrong. Things can go much, much worse.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you mind me asking about one of these times of failure and not trusting your intuition ’cause I think sometimes these are things that are good for us to hear about other people. Because we all assume we’re the only ones.

Matty Oates:                          True. A lot of it was just dealing with feeling like I should check, if we’re sailing and I look at something, I look at a line where we’ve been sailing out to Bermuda for four days and we’re always checking to make sure that no lines are chaffing and nothing’s wrong and to the times where you see something and the gut reaction says, “That’s going to chaff through.” Whether you’re tired and it’s ’cause you’ve been up for, you’re working on two hours sleep, three hours sleep and just out of it you go, it’ll be fine til morning and then next thing you know it’s two hours later and the line’s parted and everyone’s being called up to take in the sail that’s now flopping about ’cause I didn’t trust my gut on that.

Times where we’ve broken masts and broken spars and days we went out sailing we probably shouldn’t have been out in weather that was too strong and this was racing not voyaging. People getting hurt. People or gear breaking and just seeing where pride, seeing where for lack of a better term, machoism can just lead you down the wrong path in an attempt to prove someone wrong or better somebody. It gets you no where in the end, it really doesn’t.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is this part of that learning that you’re not always right? That you were talking about with regard to yourself when you were younger.

Matty Oates:                          Oh yeah, yeah, learning to be wrong is I think the best thing that we could possibly learn is just and a lot of times on a boat the hierarchy is very rigid and needs to be because the responsibility flows uphill that person at the top of the hill needs to then have the ability to control all the variables. A captain may need to be a bit of a tyrant but it’s because if anything goes wrong they bear all the responsibility. There’s no other way to it. There’s times learning to hold your tongue even if you don’t believe things right. The only time you really can speak up is if you believe people are in jeopardy, safety’s in jeopardy. But yeah, learning to swallow pride, learning to just accept the fact that you may not agree but you aren’t wearing the captain pants. You just got to suck it up and go with it because you may not have all the answers.

Lisa Belisle:                             Again, I wonder if there isn’t something cultural or societal or educational that hasn’t started us all down the path of believing that we all have to be right and we have to be right the first time.

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, it’s true. I completely agree with you. We’ve gone down that path but at the same time it feels like a lot of us don’t then if we are wrong, don’t have, we don’t want to accept the responsibility that we were wrong. That’s the other thing, just being able to raise your hand and say, “My name is Matty Oates and I was wrong.” That’s a lesson that should be taught more. Valuable life skills like you were saying before, in the strive to be more competitive and be more individualistic we miss some of the most crucial, my mom’s a preschool teacher and she has all these parents who are at age four and five they’re wondering if their kids are ready for kindergarten and are they going to do well on the test and she’s like, hold on, hold on. Can they share at playtime? Do they know how to take turns? Do they know, these are the real skills that will get them through life.

Colleges are not going to be looking at their preschool test scores. They don’t care those. But if you can share with somebody, that’s going to make you a good friend, a good partner, a good business partner. It’s so important.

Lisa Belisle:                             You decided that you were going to switch gears and go from the nonprofit world to work with Shipyard Brewing Company but you’ve actually been able to continue to bridge that gap and you found that there are important ways that working in for profit situation can help with nonprofit situation.

Matty Oates:                          Absolutely. I started working with Shipyard Brewing as program director of Tall Ships because Shipyard was a great supporter and sponsor of the nonprofit. I got to work closely with the staff there through our events. And then starting to work with Shipyard in June of this year. It really opened my eyes to how much Shipyard and really the entire brewing community here in Maine gives back to the nearly 13,000 nonprofits that are in Maine alone. There’s a lot of people with strong missions and great hearts but it’s tough to run a nonprofit on your own and to see the astronomical rise the brewing industry and then how they give back. I had no idea Shipyard gives back to the number of nonprofits that it does. It adds such a feeling of community, being able to be at these events and help support everything from Portland Trails and Spurwink and some of these organizations that do great and much needed work in Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting having worked in that in between where I’ve experience in the for profit and the nonprofit worlds, sometimes for profit gets a bad rap. Sometimes you’re seen as like the evil organization that’s money grubbing. But then when you realize that not only are they supporting nonprofits but they’re also supporting people’s families and paying their health insurance and making it possible for people to have roofs over their heads. It’s easier to be less judgemental I guess.

Matty Oates:                          Yeah, that’s so true. It comes back to the yin and the yang. We wouldn’t be able to have one with the other. We couldn’t have nonprofits if there were no for profits to support them and having been through not just through Tall Ships Portland but also before I went out to France, all the boats I worked on were 501C3 nonprofits doing environmental education or historical education. From the beginning realizing how tight these budgets have to be and how important fundraising is and how important donors are. And yeah, without those for profits we would have great intentions for the nonprofit world but no way to execute. You’re completely right. They’re so integral.

Lisa Belisle:                             And I think that’s again something that maybe when I was growing up and all the stuff I’m saying to you I’ve experienced myself so it’s not as if I’m accusing other people of feeling a certain way about for profit organizations. I think when you go through, when I went through my academic training to become a doctor, there’s this sense there’s these ivory towers that we all can live within and then all the people down below who actually have to work for a living, scrub the toilets and do the for profit stuff, somehow there’s something base about that because they’re doing, they’re working for money. I think that’s a transition that we all have to go through, this sense that there’s this idealistic view of the world, that you get to be part of when you’re in the academic field but then once you get out there’s this reality of life.

Matty Oates:                          Yeah. There was a great article written I think 2008, maybe 2009, published in the New York Times. It was in one of the Sunday inserts. I believe the title was, A Case to be Made for Working With Your Hands. It was a guy who had english degree from University of Chicago, he had done a lot of freelance writing. He’d done a lot of work at think tanks in DC and he’d left it all, he did a bit of freelance writing but he left it all to open a motorcycle repair shop ’cause he’d been tinkering and he realized bit by bit that the thought process, the actual analysis that went through breaking open a motorbike was at the time for him, far more real that the think tank stuff he was doing in DC. And that’s not to put down what that work and that, which is integral.

He brought up that same idea of we pass the lineman working in a storm to repair a transformer and we say, “Oh my, what a tough job.” But is there a little tinge of jealousy in there as well? Do we actually want to be the one performing this crucial task? That’s another thing that we did focus on a little bit with Tall Ships with the idea of the maritime trades and how we have, we’ve turned away from promoting the trades. It’s been this constant stream that everyone needs to go to a four year university and that’s it and that’s why we’ve got electricians making six figures because there’s nobody out there. The thinking is not only incredibly difficult with a very, if you get it wrong, it’s a pretty abrupt end working with AC power. You gotta make sure you’re thinking clear and thinking ahead and thinking through everything that you do and same thing with plumbing and engineering and there’s Maine has so many opportunities.

There’s a boatyard Washburn and Dowdy up the way that make these state of the art tractor tugs that we see plowing up the waterways here. They are having a tough time finding kids at 18 years old to sweeps the floors of the workshop for 18 bucks an hour. Which, if you’re 18 years old is a great wage around here. And they will take you and they’ll see what you’re interested in whether it’s welding or whatever and they’ll put you in an apprenticeship and provide you with a great career in the state of Maine. And I feel like a lot of people don’t even know these exist. That was a bit of a tangent there.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s an important thing for us to keep considering that we live within a community and different types of intelligence are valuable. You can have the type of intelligence that enables you to get a PhD and study something at the university. You can have the type of intelligence that enables you to keep the power on. You can have the type of intelligence that enables to build a boat. It’s not that any of these are better or worse or more valuable or less valuable. They’re all very valuable and they keep us all moving forward together. I’m okay with that tangent because I believe in it. That’s the bottom line we’re talking. I’ll let you go on that one.

I’ve been speaking with Matty Oates who is the former program director for Tall Ships Portland who currently works a media manager at Shipyard Brewing Company. He and his brother Kevin also host a podcast called Bach to Bock in which they discuss both classical music and beer. It’s been a fun conversation, thanks for coming in.

Matty Oates:                          Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by  Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s old port where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessica Jordan was 34 when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. Her mother passed away soon after she finished radiation. To honor her mother’s memory, Jessica completed the Tri for a Cure in July of 2017 and she was this year’s top fundraiser breaking her goal by $44,000. That’s pretty impressive.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah, it was a pretty amazing experience.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting that you were able to turn something that really was for most people and I’m sure for you also a very difficult experience. Two things that were very difficult, breast cancer and your mother passing away, into something important and meaningful in a fairly short period of time.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah, it was a short period of time. It was only a couple months after my mom passed that I was going through actually some emails of hers and somehow I thought of the Tri for a Cure and I remembered that I had signed up for it. And one of the last things my mom and I had talked about was trying to raise money for cancer research. And I was in such, getting through cancer and then being hit by losing somebody so important to me, I had thought cancer was one of the toughest things I’d ever gone through. And my mom used to always say, “Things can always be worse.” I felt like I was faced all of a sudden with something that was, felt so much worse. I actually missed the days of just dealing with chemo because that seemed easier than what I was faced with with losing my mom so suddenly.

I really needed some kind of outlet. I knew my family needed some kind of outlet and we were in a really bad place. I said to my sister, “I don’t have anything left to deal with this kind of enormous loss. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted,” and I felt like I just wanted to give up because I’d been so positive through treatment and through my whole journey with cancer and now my mom’s not here.

I went through a couple of months of being really, really in a dark place and really having a hard time and I looked through some of my mom’s emails and found that I had gotten into the Tri for a Cure. All of a sudden I just, I didn’t even really plan it, I just thought, you know what? I’ll sign up and I’ll worry about the training and everything later I don’t know how I’m going to do that because the last time I had run I had gone to hospital. I had run three miles and I had gone too hard and I was nervous about just the training aspect of it but I figured I’d start training. It would get me out and I’d worry about that later. We were able to write a page about what our inspiration was for doing the race. I just started writing about my mom and about how wonderful our relationship was and why I wanted to raise money for this cause and I wanted to do it in honor of her and feel like I was doing it with her.

I came home and I said to my husband, I said, “I’m going to do the Tri for a Cure this year. I just signed up.” And he said, “Okay, good for you. That’s great.” And I said, “And I looked into who, the person that raised the most donations last year,” and I said, “it was $20,000 so I want to raise $20,001.” And he looked at me and I don’t know if I gave him a look of like, that’s it I’m doing it because he looked at me like, okay, I don’t know about this. And he’s been so supportive and he just said, I said, “No, I want to do it and I want to do it this year.” And he said, “Okay.” And that was it. I started, I told my story and I immediately started seeing money being raised. And started to feel something again. Started to feel that positivity again that I had really lost after my mom passed.

Lisa Belisle:                             Did it feel as if somebody had moved the finish line on you?

Jessica Jordan:                     That’s a really good way of putting it. Yeah, yeah. It was two months after I had finished radiation that my mom passed away and I literally remember, I remember the day that she passed. I remember walking out to see Connor and we were watching one of the playoff football games. It was the new year. It was two weeks into the new year. It was January 14th and I was finally ready to say, “That’s it with the past.” My mom always said, “Let’s move forward.” We put enough towards cancer, let’s move forward and I was ready to be done with that. Like you said, I was ready, I crossed that finish line, I was ready to be done. I was ready to move forward. The day she passed, I remember looking at my husband and we gave each other this smile. I’ll never forget it because it was almost like a moment that we had where everything’s okay now. We got through all of that.

And literally that same moment my cousin walked in to tell me that something had happened to my mother. It all started all over again. It’s been brutal. Brutally hard. Really, really two of the toughest things I think you could ever deal with literally simultaneously. And they were both so unexpected. That’s the crazy part. I was 34 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Very healthy, young, wasn’t genetic. I have no idea where it came from. My mom passed of a pulmonary embolism. Neither of these made sense. I think it’s human nature to want to feel like if I hadn’t done this, then this wouldn’t have happened. If only I had done this differently then I maybe I wouldn’t have gotten cancer. Or there’s some way to rationalize somebody passing like that.

What this has proven is that we just have no control of our lives. My mom always used to say, “You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring.” And she taught me so many lessons. But I think one of the biggest lessons she taught me was that how true that really is. I was worried about myself for a year. She was worried about me for a year. And now she’s not here. Cancer or no cancer, none of us have any certainty of what tomorrow brings. That’s how I choose to live my life now. It’s not in fear but knowing today that I’m lucky.

Lisa Belisle:                             This is all still very fresh. Your mother passed away in January of 2017.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             Within the last year.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             It hasn’t even been a year as you and I are talking and then you yourself, you were diagnosed just a little, about two years ago.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah, almost exactly two years ago. February 24th.

Lisa Belisle:                             And that doesn’t even really feel, I know when I was diagnosed with cancer that the time immediately afterwards, it all sped up ’cause you’re just doing all the stuff you need to do and then you put your head up and all of a sudden you look around and six months has passed or a year has passed.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             This for you is all so, still so present.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah, it honestly time is a weird thing. It really is. It sometimes being diagnosed with cancer seems like it was a 100 years ago. That was a different life. That was a different period. You start to forget. You probably experienced this too. You start to forget some of those things that you went through. In other ways it seems like it was just three seconds ago. It’s the same thing with my mom. I think that these things too are both such shocking things that it takes you so long just to even realize that they happened. I don’t know if I’ve even fully realized that these two things have really happened. I wake up every morning, I have to say, “Yep, you had cancer, that happened.” And, “Yep, Mom’s not here, that’s true.” And I have to remind myself that these things actually happened. I don’t even feel like I know. I’ve said this a few times, I don’t feel like I really remember who I was before all of this. It changes you so profoundly.

I just, I feel like I look at that person with the long hair and just completely no idea what cancer’s like or what real loss is like and I almost just want to pat her on the back and say, “It’s okay.” It changes you so profoundly that I just look at everything differently now but at the same time I really don’t know if a lot of this has really even hit me. I’m just now starting to feel like in the last couple of weeks, more emotion. I was in such shock that now I’m starting to feel more emotion when I think about my mother because I’m really starting to realize that she’s not with us. And I’ve never experienced anything like that before where time just, it’s just a crazy thing.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting because I know going through my own breast cancer, part of what I needed to do was to be positive and to be strong and to move forward in a direction of healing. I think when you’re doing that, it almost shuts down some of the necessary processes of grieving the person you once were.

Jessica Jordan:                     Absolutely.

Lisa Belisle:                             I was just, this was for me, I can’t remember how many years now, not that long ago, maybe three, four. The other day I actually started to tear up thinking about my breast cancer. I’m like wow, where did that come from.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             So it’s interesting that you can think that you have dealt with stuff and then it’s there.

Jessica Jordan:                     It is.

Lisa Belisle:                             Just below the surface.

Jessica Jordan:                     It is. Right after I was diagnosed I started seeing a therapist and thank gosh because everything got so much crazier. I’m so glad I’ve had her. I said to her at one point, I said, “You know, I’m worried about myself because I’m not crying. I’m not emotional. What is that? Why am not crying every single day? Why am I not curled up in a ball? ‘Cause that’s what I would’ve thought if something like this happened to me let alone both things.” And what I realized is that you can feel so many different emotions and be grieving so, so much. But it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily crying all the time. You can grieve in so many different ways, that’s just one emotion. But I do find there is still, there are times where something will happen, something with spark an emotion I didn’t even, it’ll be the strangest thing that I wouldn’t have expected and suddenly I’m so emotional and something you would think would make you really emotional I’m fine.

I don’t know if it’s a coping mechanism but it’s there. It just comes out in these odd, odd times. But I do think that it’s a great point that you had. I think that we don’t know, everything happens so fast when you’re diagnosed. You don’t have the time to even think about mourning who you were because you’re trying to figure out what to do for the next thing and how to get through this next period and you’re in such a state of just trying to fix the situation that you never think about the fact that I just ended a chapter of my life. I just goodbye to the person that I was all of those years of not having to deal with this. Because I think that what a lot of people don’t realize when you are diagnosed with cancer and you start to look like yourself again after treatment and you start to feel like yourself again, everybody says, there’s this mentality of, “Oh you got through it. You’re done with it.”

I think because I’ve been very positive through my own diagnosis as well I think maybe it’s been forgotten. Or I didn’t realize this either, to be fair, I didn’t realize this before cancer how much was involved with trying to just make sure that this doesn’t happen again. But everyday is I’m still taking medication. I’m still going to get blood work every three weeks. I will be on this medication for 10 years. I’m getting mammograms and MRIs and dealing with the emotional. It’s the emotional piece that lasts longer than the treatment itself. And I think that once you start to look and feel like yourself there’s this sense of oh, everything’s okay again. It’s a lifelong change. This is for the rest of my life. I will always have this on the back burner of something that I’m thinking about. What if that ache or pain isn’t just an ache or pain? I think it’s the getting through it mentally that ends up being the longest journey of all of it.

Lisa Belisle:                             This all happened too coincidentally with around the time that you were preparing for your wedding.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes. That’s how I found it. Yeah. Yeah, I always say my wedding saved my life. It’s really crazy. I was really stressed out. Connor and I got married the day after Christmas in 2015 and I wanted to start a family very soon and I laugh at that now ’cause I thought I had this whole plan figured out. Right? We’re going to get married, I’m going to have kids, we’re going to get a house. It’s going to be one thing after another, all my ducks in a row. It all changed so quickly. Two months after we were engaged, I was planning a wedding and we were trying to do a real quick turnaround, eight months of planning and I was really busy with work so I was stressed out and I woke up in the middle of the night feeling anxious so I was rubbing the stress out of my chest and I felt something.

It was something I never felt before and thought it was almost a piece of my bone because it was really, it didn’t really move when I touched it but I was also stressed so I thought, “Jess, you’re anxious. This is why you’re doing this anyway. Just wake up in the morning, if you still feel it then call your doctor.” Well I woke up in the morning, I still felt it. So I called my doctor and I remember sitting in her office and I was trying to find it again and I couldn’t find it and I had this moment of thinking, “Oh my gosh you’re wasting everyone’s time. You don’t have the time to be out here. She’s going to think you’re crazy because you can’t even find it and you’re just anxious because you’ve got a lot going on.”

She came in and I apologized I said, “I’m sorry. I feel like I’m overreacting.” When she felt it, that’s when I started to think maybe something was not right. I looked into, I did some research on my own and I know that there’s benign cysts that you can have. So I thought well maybe that’s all it is. So I went in there, I got a mammogram and I thought that’s probably all it is and when they ruled that out and said they want to do a biopsy that day I remember that was the moment that I went in the bathroom and I started to really get emotional and lose it. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, “What if this is, what if you have cancer? What if this really is cancer?” And then, as I’m sure you know, you have to wait five to seven to hear the results which is the longest five to seven days of your entire life.

When they called and said that it was something I needed to come in for, Connor and I still were under the impression that it wasn’t, the way that they had said it, they didn’t think it was invasive so I didn’t think it was going to be anything too bad. I thought I could just get it removed. We had planned to go out to breakfast the next day after this appointment. And we were thinking about where we were going to go to breakfast. And we went in there and sat down and she said, “It’s serious.” And I said, and I’m sure you probably felt the same thing, it’s like this beautiful music that’s playing and then all of a sudden it just stops. And you hear that and it’s like your whole life just goes on pause. I said, “Is it breast cancer?” And she said, “Yes.” That ended up being a seven hour day of MRIs and blood work and needing a team that’s talking to me about things that I’d never thought I’d be talking about and trying to figure out how to tell my family.

That was the biggest thing. That came to my mind. Is how do I tell my mother? How do I say cancer? And not make it sound like a big deal. How do I say that and say oh don’t worry about it? I’m like, is there another word for cancer that I can use? Because she worried about everything. I really didn’t know how. That was my biggest focus was how do I pull myself together and call our families and tell them not to worry when I don’t have the answers for them that they’re going to want right now because we still didn’t know a lot.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s funny that that’s the thing that we worry about.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             That we worry more about how it’s going to impact other people. Which I think is probably fairly common actually. Especially among women.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             They’re so much more worried about how this is going to impact everyone around them.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             Than they are able to worry about themselves.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yep.

Lisa Belisle:                             And maybe that’s a good thing.

Jessica Jordan:                     I think it’s a good distraction.

Lisa Belisle:                             Exactly.

Jessica Jordan:                     To be honest.

Lisa Belisle:                             Exactly.

Jessica Jordan:                     I didn’t have time to really think about what if this is really, how bad could this possibly be because I was so concerned with how to relay the information to my family and my friends who I’d, God love them, I’d sent a text message to them because I couldn’t call everyone and talk to them all and give them time that I knew that they deserved so I had to send a text message. I can’t imagine being the other end of a text message from my friends saying that they have breast cancer but as you know, it’s so overwhelming that you can really only put so much energy into every single individual thing. And at that point it just you need to figure out the game plan. Do I need chemo? Do I need radiation? Do I need a lumpectomy, a double mastectomy? What are we talking here? Those are all things that at that point I still didn’t know.

Lisa Belisle:                             There’s a lot of processing that when you tell somebody some sort of news, they will need to do for themselves. If you call every person, you’re going to get everybody else’s process which is completely legitimate but also you need to retain a little bit of your own self to care for yourself.

Jessica Jordan:                     That’s a very good point.

Lisa Belisle:                             You need to be able to triage almost. Like okay, I’m going to talk to these people in person, these people get a phone call, these people get a text message, maybe these people get an email.

Jessica Jordan:                     Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             And it’s not that you don’t care about all these various friends and family just everybody wants to tell you how they feel about it.

Jessica Jordan:                     Right.

Lisa Belisle:                             Which is great and hard.

Jessica Jordan:                     It is hard. And I feel like sometimes it can also add to your anxiety because certain people you tell and God love them, they get so nervous, they ask all these questions that you didn’t think about. And then the next thing you know you’re going, oh my gosh, should I have thought about that? What if that is the case? I don’t know. It adds to sometimes an already anxiety, obviously an anxiety producing situation. I think that’s one of the hardest things too is not letting other people’s fears and thoughts or ideas become something that you’re taking on as your own because you already have so many of your own to try and to figure out. Trying time like that.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think that that’s a really important point. It might actually in some ways the fact that we have access to so much information now, may not be the best thing because it does actually cause you to second guess yourself and the worst thing you can do when you’re trying to set up a treatment plan is second guess because there is no perfect option.

Jessica Jordan:                     No. And they don’t tell you that. Not that anybody would ever tell you this but I always thought that, I always had this idea that if you were diagnosed with something serious, the doctors would just say, “Okay here’s exactly what you need to do.” I went in there and they said that. I’m like, “All right so what exactly do I need to do? Just fix it.” And there’s no perfect recipe it’s more like, here are your options. Let me know which one you would like to move forward with. And I wasn’t prepared for that. I don’t think a lot of people are. We’re not the experts but you have to almost become an expert and you do have do your own research which can be a long rabbit hole to fall into because that starts to address other issues that you didn’t think about. Or other problems that might be yours or might not be.

Or other people’s, one thing that I stopped getting involved in is other people writing their own stories or their own experiences because I started to be convinced that all of those were going to be my story and my experience and I couldn’t really separate reality from what I thought might happen or what happened to somebody else. I had to constantly say, “Is this my diagnosis? Is this my situation?” And lots of times it wasn’t but if you really do, I stopped reading anything really at this point. I’m lucky enough I have a friend who’s an oncologist so I just call her. Or I know the trusted sites to go to. But no longer do I just randomly Google something because you almost always find the answer that you don’t want if you’re looking for something and you’re worried about it. You’re going to surely find that that inevitably what’s going to happen. I think that’s a huge point is to just refrain from, there’s almost too much information out there now. There really is. And that really can be really hard when you’re going through such a serious diagnosis.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s all of these things that we’re talking about I think also that makes Tri for a Cure so powerful because so many people are in that survivor wave of participants that you look around and you think, that person went through this, that person went through this, this person went through this. Or you look at the people who are impacted by cancer in other ways and you think, she has a sister. She has a mother. And even though you may not have exactly the same experience, it’s interesting to be part of that bigger group now.

Jessica Jordan:                     Absolutely. It was actually a really emotional moment to, I did the 5K for the Tri for a Cure too. I stood on the line and they had a thing for the survivors and they start first. And there weren’t that many of us. And everybody else is supporting us but they’d all had some kind of cancer related story. My friend caught up to me ’cause she ran it with me and I looked at her and I said, “I can’t believe that I’m running in this wave.” And she said, “I still can’t either.” And there was just this moment of I’ve been a competitive runner since I was 11 years old. To be running along with other women who didn’t have their hair and my hair was just growing back and now to be running, it was just a totally different experience. I used to always love to support causes like this but I’d become the cause. That was one of, a really pivotal moment for me to say, “Oh my gosh, I’m on the other side of this now. I’m not just cheering these women on. I am one of these women.”

The Tri for a Cure is just, it’s incredible for so many ways. Not only what it raises money for but yeah, you start to look around and you see all of these people that have been affected in some way, shape or form. A lot of them are young. And when I came to Maine and I started my treatment here, I felt like I was the only 34 year old woman with breast cancer in Maine and I remember saying that to a nurse. I said, “Am I the youngest woman in Maine to ever have breast cancer?” And she said, “Oh no. That’s not good that you think that.” She said, “You guys just don’t come in at the same time.” She said, “There’s actually quite a few of them.” We started a group where we would meet every week and we would just talk about all the things that none of our other 34 year old friends could talk about or could relate to.

And God love them they tried. It wasn’t that they didn’t care but there’s just things that happen with a diagnosis like this. Different side effects, different ailments, different emotional stressors that is not common for a young 30 year old woman to be going through. And that’s hard as well when you start to think, why me? What did I do wrong? That was one thing that I really struggled with was that I really felt almost like, I almost felt like I was ashamed when I was first diagnosed because all these other women were having babies and getting married, getting engaged, buying houses, doing all the things that they should be doing and I was at home bald and going through treatment and really not recognizing myself emotionally or physically. And to do that as a 34 year old woman before you’ve really even started your life with someone, presents so many different challenges that a lot women my age couldn’t relate to.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think it’s really important that you have raised this money for cancer research and here’s why. Because cancer is impacting people at a younger age. It’s impacting young, healthy people and we don’t have reasons for it and we don’t have great screening tests for it and people need to stop feeling guilty about getting something that possibly has underlying reasons that we don’t know enough about yet and the only way we’re going to figure this out is by putting money into research and the only way we’re going to be able to do that is to have people like you raising the money. It’s a very important thing you’ve done.

Jessica Jordan:                     Thank you very much. It’s been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever been part of.

Lisa Belisle:                             I appreciate your coming in and sharing your story with us. I’ve been speaking with Jessica Jordan who was 34 when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer and her mother passed soon after she finished radiation. To honor her mother’s memory, she completed Tri for a Cure last July and was that year’s top fundraiser, breaking her goal by $44,000. Thank you for coming in and for all the good work you’re doing.

Jessica Jordan:                     Thank you very much. It was an honor.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s old port where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 332. Our guests have included Matty Oates and Jessica Jordan. For more information on our guests in extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radios is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also let our sponsors know that you have head about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost. Our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #331: Birch Shambaugh and John Weston

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine, and acupuncture, and tops. Show summaries are available at

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio show number 331, airing for the first time on Sunday, January 21st, 2018. Today’s guests are Birch Shambaugh, owner of Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, and seventh generation farmer John Weston of Weston Farm in Fryeburg. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest, and it located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work on contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Birch Shambaugh, who along with his wife Faith are the husband and wife team behind Woodford Food & Beverage, a neighborhood bar and restaurant in Portland. We attempted to have both here with us today, but we to have Birch by himself representing Fayth, so thank you for being here.

Birch S:                                     Thank you very much for having me.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I am fascinated by the fact that you brought an eatery to the former Valle’s Steakhouse in the middle of Woodford’s Corner. It’s not something that in this day and age often we think of. Retrofitting a chain restaurant to be a more intimate bistro type setting.

Birch S:                                     Yeah. It’s been, well it’s been a long and pretty fascinating undertaking for us to date. One that significantly pre-dates our actually opening of this restaurant. My wife and I moved to the neighborhood almost a decade ago, and both had worked in hospitality for a goodly portion of our lives. About the first week that we bought our house in the Oakdale neighborhood, we were heading out Forest Avenue to the big box stores to start fixing it up, and we saw for the first time, this amazing or amazing to us building sitting in the middle of Woodford’s Corner. It had the peaked roofs and the mid century architecture that strongly suggested roadside dining.

At the time, it was kitted as a mortgage company, which it had been for many years. It lept out to us, as places often do for people who’ve worked in hospitality a lot, we turned to one another and said, “That should be a restaurant.” Of course with a little bit of digging, we realized it had been and that’s precisely what it was purpose built to be. It was one of those moments where this space really thunderstruck us and we couldn’t get it out of our head. Life continued apace in all of our other pursuits, and our fixing the house, and we got ourselves excitedly into a family and all manner of stuff, but once the idea lodged in our heads, we couldn’t shake it. We started thinking about it more and more, and the idea became something a little more full fledged.

We realized that not only had it been a restaurant at one time, Valle’s Steakhouse. In fact, the first Valle’s Steakhouse. While Valle’s grew into a chain, this was where it started and when Valle’s started, it really was a foundation point in the neighborhood. That neighborhood at the time, in the 50’s, Woodford’s Corner, was a neighborhood epicenter. It had its own specific gravity. It served all the surrounding neighborhoods in a different way, perhaps, than it has since then. It was dense with the neighborhood businesses, there was a move theater there, there were one, possibly two neighborhood drug stores. It was really a thriving little community epicenter.

Obviously a lot of things have changed in the intermediate decades, but this idea of vitality in that amazing old space, and the idea of trying to bring a restaurant back there that could be a central part of the community and help drive that narrative, hopefully, a little bit of change back in the direction of there being a great neighborhood feel there, was something that was really interesting to us in our own neighborhood. None of that is to suggest that there aren’t a lot of great neighborhood businesses there now. There have been businesses, hospitality and otherwise that have been holding it down there for really long time. Artisan Craftsman, and the Bear a further out on Forest, and Bayou Kitchen. There’s the seafood shop, Merle’s across the street. A lot of fantastic neighborhood businesses, but there’s also been a seat change in terms of Forest Avenue as a transit corridor and I think it’s fair to say that it suffered a couple of generations of commuter based policy blight along that section.

We got this idea in our head that there was not only that that building really should, in its highest and best use because a restaurant again, but that there was an opportunity to try and bring a great neighborhood place back into that space, and at the same time, drive a meaningful plot in terms of helping increase momentum towards Woodford’s Corner being a little bit more of a neighborhood epicenter again. That’s what lodged in our craw, if you will. That was … Geez, we’re coming up on our two year anniversary now. That was probably six, seven years ago. We reached out to the owner of the building and tried to see if he had any interest, and never heard back from him. We continued in the rest of our life and moving along through various work and what have you, but we kept digging at the idea.

Then flash forward, I guess three years ago now, we had just welcomed our second child into the world, and I got a phone call out of the blue on my cell phone. The voice on the other end said, “Well, you are persistent. Are you still interested in the building at 660 Forest Avenue?” It was a pretty remarkable question to get out of the blue after maybe five, six letters sent without response over the years. I had my son Wayland in one arm, and he was colicky and howling, and this phone with a voice reaching out to respond to a question that we’ve been asking ourselves for years now. Ultimately while life was a pretty complex as it stood, it was probably not more than a 10 or 15 minute conversation between Faith and I before we realized that there really was only one answer to us, that you don’t get the shot, the window to try and take a crack at a dream of yours all that often.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      It has been interesting to watch, I guess, the rise in the food culture in the Portland area. There aren’t as many people who are working on food culture off peninsula in Portland as there are on peninsula in Portland. You and Faith are among those people. Have there been specific challenges associated with not being right in the middle of the Old Port, let’s say?

Birch S:                                     Yeah. I think there … Well, every challenge is also an opportunity, right? If you frame it correctly. I will say that there are a lot of things that are different about doing what we do where we do it. Obviously there’s an incredible density of amazing offerings in the downtown on peninsula area in Portland. That said, we never had any interest in opening a restaurant downtown. The only thing that was interesting to us was doing something out there in the community that we lived in and trying to make a neighborhood place. That’s a long way around answer a part of your question, which is that a neighborhood restaurant, a good neighborhood joint is substantively different than a restaurant that is dependent on tourist traffic.

A lot of the strength of the hospitality industry downtown is supported, and that amazing density of options is supported by the incredible tourism we enjoy here. That is not something that you can reasonable hope for, at least in the near term, in an off peninsula location. In some ways, it’s an entirely different business approach. When we opened a couple of years ago, there were less options than there are now. There are increasingly month in and year out more and more options out our way, off peninsula, and that’s a great thing. We live in these neighborhoods and more options is better for everybody who lives out there.

Ultimately, if you do your job well and you’re lucky, you start to create something that’s interesting enough that it becomes a compelling jaunt for people who are in town visiting from away as well. A couple of years in we’re starting to see more and more of that, but certainly you have to have a different goal to open a restaurant or a bar, what have you, out there, than you have down here. Our goal has always been to forge long term relationships with our customers, the people who live and work around there in surrounding towns and environments that are interested in trying something a little bit different and coming our way rather than going downtown.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      My family and I live in Yarmouth, and the first few times we talked about going into Woodford Food & Beverage, it was like, “Well, that seems like that’s really far out of the way,” but then we went there, and we’re like, “Well, it’s actually not that far out of the way.” The perception is very different than the reality. If you’re gonna drive in from the suburbs, it’s almost equidistant really.

Birch S:                                     You can loop around the back cove and be at us just as easily when you’re coming from the north as you can be downtown. Certainly perception is a huge thing in our business, in any business. We have kept our eyes squarely on just concentrating on trying to be the best version of ourselves that we can be in the belief that our appeal and our ultimately the strength of our business would reflect how effectively we were creating these lasting relationships with people. That starts in our own back yard.

What’s going on right now with the construction in Woodford’s Corner is a perfect example. It’s safe to say it is doing no favors to us or anybody else, but ultimately you’ve got to take the long view on this stuff. It’s part of the civic contract, and if it’s even incrementally successful, it would be a real difference maker for the livability and the walkability and the overall experience of both living in and passing through Woodford’s corner, which a notoriously lousy intersection. That said, in the midst of this maelstrom of construction, there is understandably a perception of wanting to avoid the hassle of choosing to drive into the corner. Of course, I totally understand that.

But the flip side is that all of our local customers, our guests who live in the neighborhoods around us have been incredible supportive and have been regularly coming in and supporting us through this and telling us that they really appreciate us being there and they want to see the continued health and viability of this momentum that’s afoot in Woodford’s Corner. As a result, they’re coming in and helping support us through the midst of that. That’s the type of relationship, I think, that I critical for a neighborhood business to be compelling enough and to be enough a part of people’s lives that they are interested in continuing to support you and to continue making sure that that is a meaningful interaction and an experience for them. If you could do a good job of that, I strongly believe that the rest will follow. People come to visit us from downtown regularly and people from neighborhoods like Valmouth and Yarmouth and what have you, find that it’s worth the trip.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well, the food is delicious.

Birch S:                                     Thank you.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I think it’s worth the trip just for that alone, but it’s also a very friendly atmosphere. We’ve been really impressed with the number of people that we’ve seen, especially older couples, that we’ll see walking from other parts of Woodford’s walking through the door. They’re clearly well known by people on your staff, and they find a place at the booth, they’ve been there more times than we have. It just feels very homey and-

Birch S:                                     Thank you very much. That’s actually incredibly meaningful to me, to us. Clearly you’re offering the food and drink in a place like ours is super important. It’s a huge part of the equation, but it’s by no means all of the equation. It’s a little bit of a cliché, I suppose to say, but for us in the hospitality business, you have to keep in mind that hospitality is your product, it’s not just food or drink or the caliber of your service. It’s this hopefully synergistic combination of all those things that delivers an experience and ultimately a feeling, how you feel about a place. That starts with the people who work there, and we are immense fortunate to have an incredible crew of people who we get to work with every day. People who also genuinely enjoy being there and genuinely care.

That’s the first foundational block of great service, of being able to consistently deliver a great product, and ultimately being able to make people feel good about being in there, whether they work there or they’re electing to come and spend their time and money there. That’s been incredibly important to us. Faith and I spend, and Courtney I should say … Courtney, who is our executive chef and long term friend. She’s amazing. It’s been a really profound creative experience between the three of us to try and figure out how to realize these hopes and visions that we had for this idea and this business. She’s one of the rare chefs that I’ve ever met who really believes also that a great restaurant is so much more than just great food, that it’s a great room and great service, and that softer science of a great vibe, but those are very difficult things to do put your finger on. You say you want to make a great neighborhood place, well, what’s that? It’s a super subjective thing.

We spent years even before we opened the doors, it was an ongoing conversation between the three of us on how to realize that. It’s not to suggest by any stretch of the imagination that we’ve got it all figure out, because far be it, but I’m reasonable pleased and super proud of how much progress we’ve made to date on it. I do think that that feeling that you talked about, that feeling of conviviality and a great vibe and friendliness within a place, that’s the hallmark of a great neighborhood place, and trying to figure out what the components are to be able to actually coax that into life has been our really fun project to date.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When I was in London and Dublin, I noticed the pub culture is so very different than what we have over here. It’s very much a third space atmosphere. It seems as though what you are trying to offer is that third space, where a lot of people now in this country are gravitating towards coffee shops. You’re offering, this is a restaurant, is a dining experience, a place where people … It’s not work, it’s not home, but they’re going to gather, and maybe they’ll get to know each other and maybe they’ll have a different element of their day that they might not otherwise have had if you’d just gone home.

Birch S:                                     I absolutely agree with that. We think about hospitality in some meaningful way, an extension of the familiarity or comfort of home and hearth, without the direct responsibility for that. That level of comfort and casualness that people have in space they’re familiar with is something that we’ve always felt is really important. Those are the kind of spaces and restaurants that we gravitate towards. We have definitely seen over the past couple of years, we’ve seen this amazing things that’s happened at our place where people have gotten to know each other under our roof who wouldn’t have otherwise, and we’ve gotten to know them.

Ultimately, as much as we are welcoming people into our restaurant, they’re welcoming us and one another into their lives when they’re there regularly. It becomes this, again, this synergistic thing that almost has a life and breath of its own. This feeling of familiarity and comfort and relationships born. It’s a profound and pretty humbling thing to be a part of, and to be able to do it in the community that we live in is incredible how often do you get to do something that you love in the community that you live in, and be able to forge these relationships with people that grow into something that it’s not two dimensional, it actually is deeper than that and meaningful. Like I said, that’s really a humbling thing.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When you and Faith were growing up, did you know that hospitality would be your ultimate separate goals, and now goal as a couple, I guess?

Birch S:                                     Well, Faith is probably the more died on the bowl hospitality veteran of the two of us. We both cumulatively probably spent 35 years in hospitality in one form or another. I don’t know if we knew it growing up, but certainly we’ve always known in our relationship and our dynamic that it was not so much a question of if we would ever open a place, but the where and the when. Certainly, the hospitality is something that is just inside people. It either is or it isn’t, and that’s fine. That extends from how interested you are in welcoming people to your home and having dinner parties and things like that, which is something that has been a part of our life together since the beginning.

We had a cooking club in New York when we lived there that we were in for a decade and change, every Tuesday night with a couple other friends. We would routinely have round robin dinner parties and the like. That’s not that interesting to some people, but for those that it is, it’s certainly one of those fundamental groundwork elements that can contribute to making a decision so harebrained as to wanting to open a restaurant. Yeah, we always knew that we wanted to, and the question of where and when obviously answer itself when we found ourselves here. Faith has worked in hospitality since the very beginning, I took a 10 year break in technology, but ultimately realized that I was much more of a people person and got sick of sitting in front of a computer screen all day.

I think it’s something that there are also some people who decide that they want to open a restaurant and then find a couple years in, that it turns out maybe they’re not so much of a people person, and that can be a profound shock, I think. For us, it’s been something that’s just a part of our lives and our DNA, and has been a very natural extension of that to open a place of our own, and now to have a young family in it as well. It’s incredible to be running essentially a family business, and have two young children who are growing up in a restaurant. I’m acutely aware that we are also sowing the seeds for this life potentially in both of them.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I think each of the times that we have eaten at your restaurant, because we always tend to eat early, your family has been there as well. You’ve been there with your young children. It’s interesting to see their comfort level that they obviously enjoy the food, but they also enjoy the interactions with other people, and the staff, other patrons of the restaurant. I think that’s important because it seems more and more that we go off to work, our children go off to daycare or school, or separate lives. Come back at the end of the day, you have a few hours together, everybody goes to sleep. You wake up, you do the same thing the next day. I think we miss out when there’s not enough intersections between what we do as adults and what children do as children.

Birch S:                                     Yeah, I think so. We don’t have those hard delineations in our life, both by design and necessity these days. Of course opening a restaurant is a notoriously challenging and stressful undertaking, and doing it with a young family is even more complicated, but we always also by design, wanted this to be a very porous memory in our lives between work and our life because ultimately that’s the way that it feels to us. That also has permeated into the type of restaurant that we made. Hopefully you make the kind of restaurant that you yourself want, and the type of restaurant that we want is the type of place that is very comfortable to be in as a family. The type of place that can be a bunch of different things to the same person.

It’s the place you’re thrilled to go with your kids and have a meal, that they can find something to enjoy, and perhaps you can have a semblance of an adult meal and proper cocktail at the same time. Also the type of place you would go alone and sit at the bar and read and be unbothered by anybody or that you might step out and want to celebrate something. To try and be all those things, means that we’ve had to live all of those things ourselves as well, and both verify that the place could be that for us, as well as validate our assumptions on that level. Consequently, we have created a restaurant that I think is very comfortable to dine in with kids. We do it regularly and there are certainly times when the place is lousy with little kids, but we love that ’cause ultimately that’s life. It’s an honest look at what life I like, and there’s vitality in being able to look around a room, whether it’s our restaurant or any other and see an older couple having a meal alone and enjoying a moment on one end of the room, and a young family with two or three squawking kids at another end of the room, and everything in between. For us, that’s vitality and that’s an honest look at life, and that’s the type of place that we want to have.

Yes, we dine in it regularly and occasionally, I am reminded that there are many children who are more refined and better dinners than ours are. I’m constantly amazed at what incredible young diners regularly are in our doors, and I don’t count ours those, as ours can be unrepentant heathens at times. All parents, of course, do their best to control that situation impact on their diners as much as possible, but I’ll apologize right now for the fact that I’m only marginally successful sometimes in our own restaurant.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I’ve never noticed that your children were heathens. From my standpoint, they’re doing just fine.

Birch S:                                     Thank you.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I think that’s also, I don’t know if you on purpose, or inadvertently raised the idea that one of the ways that we learn how to be with others in a group setting is by being in a group setting. There’s not really a way to become a refined diner or a diner of any sort unless you actually are in a restaurant with other people. If you’re a small child and you get to be there enough, you maybe will development behaviors that will …

Birch S:                                     Yeah, agreed.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Yes.

Birch S:                                     It is fair to say that anybody raising children in this particular environment in life also exposes them to things that other kids may be less exposed to. Faith and I were at a restaurant not long ago with the kids. Somebody was making a cocktail behind the bar in the far off distance behind the restaurant. My elder child, Cordelia, heard the sound of the cocktail shaker and said, “Papa, is Todd here?” He’s one of our bartenders. Which I thought was pretty cute.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      So not every child has that kind of experience. You’ve not just showed your children very specific sound effects that they will be able to relate to for the rest of their lives.

Birch S:                                     Perhaps some of it will effectively firewall for a period of time, but it was one of those light bulb moments where it really made me sit back and consider just what an interesting thing it is to be growing up in this environment.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I’ve been speaking with Birch Shambaugh, who along with his wife, Faith, is part of the husband and wife team behind Woodford Food & Beverage, a neighborhood bar and restaurant in Portland. Thank you for coming in today, and my best to Faith. We will be back in your restaurant again soon.

Birch S:                                     Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

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Dr Lisa Belisle:                      John Weston is a seventh generation farmer who grows 60 acres of fresh vegetables, and two acres of them are certified organic. He also coaches Nordic skiing at Fryeburg Academy. Thanks for coming in.

John Weston:                       Good morning.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I’m interested in the fact that you’ve been doing the work on your farm for seven generations. Well, not you personally, but people have been on your farm for seven generations. Is that a normal thing a far as you can tell?

John Weston:                       Well, no, I think that what? In 2000, we were recognized as a century farm by the USDA. At the time, I think that we were the third one in Maine. So no, it wouldn’t be, I think, something that happens every day. We’re proud of that.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Seven generations, and you still have three of them that are affiliated with the farm, is that right?

John Weston:                       Now we’re down to two. My grandmother, who was 104, who passed a couple years ago. No, now we’re down to two. My father and myself. Yeah, obviously we’re very proud of all that, bu the struggles of working with family and all the fun that goes along with that creates its own challenges above and beyond the fact that we’re in agriculture as well.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Tell me about your family. Tell me how they first came to be in Maine working on this far in western Maine.

John Weston:                       Well, like most people from Maine, the roots came from Massachusetts, when Maine was still part of Massachusetts. That was in the winter of 1799. We took ownership of the property in March of 1800, but we always say we were established in 1799 ’cause it sounds better. Yeah, it was the typical family gentleman’s farm, doing the things to sustain a family and sustain the farm. Throughout the generations, there were livestock dealers, cattle dealings, hemlock bark was a big industry for a while. More the current generations, my grandfather was a livestock dealer, so when all the number of farms that were in the area, you could think of it almost as a grocery store for animals. If you were going to start your spring and needed some piglets, or if you had a beef animal to sell, or you needed a replacement heifer for your dairy farm, you would see my grandfather.

He bought and shipped cattle throughout New England. There was a period where he shipped them from the Fryeburg train station to Boston on train cars. As that industry began to slow down, and the number of farms began to dwindle, that disappeared. My father’s generation transitioned from … He still did some of the livestock dealing. We always had cattle on the side. Excuse me, a dairy farm on the side. Then my father went more into a dairy farm, and my early years growing up through grade school, we still had the dairy, and then as that industry began to change and transition, we moved into crops. Most of my adult life has been dealing with crop farming.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When you say that most people in Maine came from Massachusetts, when your farm started out, Maine was Massachusetts. There was no Maine because that wasn’t until 1820. How was it that your family decided, “Oh, we’re gonna go up further in Massachusetts and connect with this plot of land.”

John Weston:                       Well, I can’t say what exactly brought us up here, but because everything was so mixed throughout. The survey lines were not set, grants of land were just being given to people. Obviously military generals and military personnel were being given chunks of land as compensation. I think it was Colonel Frye who started Fryeburg. Actually, so when my family came here, or part of the reason they came here was where our homestead is now, the man that was credited for the town of Brownfield, his name was Henry Brown, was living there and they re-ran the survey lines from Maine and New Hampshire and found out that he was actually living in Fryeburg, so he wasn’t about to stay in Fryeburg. He was gonna live in his own namesake town, so quickly left and my family capitalized on that by purchasing the property for, I think it was $743. A roundabout way, but that’s how they got started.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Your farm is right next to the river. The river that many people travel, in the summertime especially, on inner tubes and canoes and things like that.

John Weston:                       It’s a floating circus.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      It’s a floating circus, yeah exactly, exactly. This has been an interesting thing for you over the years because it also means that your farm is part of a flood plain.

John Weston:                       Yeah, which is obviously part of the reason why agriculture’s a big part of Fryeburg. It’s not just our farm, but a number of others. The Saco River divides our property, and 95% of it is low lying river bottom ground, which makes it excellent for agriculture, but very flood prone. Then, of course, as you say, there’s the newfound recreation parts of it with the canoe liveries, and the frat party that can happen on weekends on the Saco River. We’re not affected by that too, too much, luckily. We get to hear the noise from it on occasion, but otherwise we’re fortunate to have such great ground to grow crops on.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      This also means sometimes that when you’ve had weather extremes, that you’ve needed to adjust things a little bit. Most recently, we had the wind storm that affected us on this part of the state with tree down and power outages. You were mentioning to me that you got a lot … There was a lot of rain up in the mountains and came down and impacted your Christmas trees.

John Weston:                       Sure. Well, the Saco River starts in Crawford Notch in New Hampshire. All of that watershed winds up coming down through Fryeburg, and so a lot of times we have to watch the weather in New Hampshire, we’ll watch the New Hampshire forecast a lot to see what’s coming our way because locally, the wind storm that you talked about locally, Bartlett, New Hampshire, got between five and six inches of rain. All that’s going to be consolidated coming our way, and it did. We had some power outages, but the flood waters came up. Otherwise, it would be a good time of year for us ’cause we don’t have any crops. We don’t have any equipment or pumps in the river, or anything like that, other than Christmas trees.

We did have debris, and the biggest culprit is actually silt, the muddy water, as it recedes, just sticks to the needles. Now you have a dirty looking tree that we’ll have to wash off. The good part is it’ll still remain growing and still be a viable crop for another year. We haven’t lost the income from it.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Christmas is a big part of what you do with your farm story. When we visited there this summer, we could already see the pre-seeding, I guess, decorations, evidence that this was a big season.

John Weston:                       Yeah. It’s part of the business model. If you’re in agriculture, we have a very narrow window that we can operate for the crops on a yearly basis, so our yearly cycle is we start officially in March, we make maple syrup. That’s the early spring income, and we transition into some greenhouse crops. Then summer and fall aren’t a problem because there’s all the harvest of those seasons. Fresh vegetables and pumpkins and squash and all that. Christmas trees provide that winter income to bridge that gap a little bit. I never grew up knowing much about Christmas trees or thinking I’d be a Christmas tree farm in any stretch, but it’s part of the pie that you have to create to have your business model. It’s been a good one. We were fortunate to have some abutting tree farms that we could learn from as they transitioned out. We have people that come from across New England now to cut a tree and make it their family experience. No, it’s a nice time of year.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When you were growing up, did you know this is what you wanted to do? Did you know that you were gonna stay with the family business?

John Weston:                       It was always in the back of my mind. I went through high school always being interested in architecture and construction, so had that in the back of my mind, but was still always thinking about how do you carry on the farm. It’s there and it’s present, and I was never pressured to do it, I will certainly hand that to my parents. They always let me choose my own way. Certainly, you can’t not feel that pressure a little bit. I wound up going to University of Maine Orono, and studying sustainable agriculture and quickly began to realize that most of the people that I was taking classes with didn’t have any of the infrastructure that I had waiting for me, and that that was incredible unique. It was there that I realized that yeah, I’ve got something that a lot of people wish they had, and I enjoy doing it anyways. Returned home, and started on the farm. My greater winter incomes quickly became being involved in Nordic skiing, and that’s been my yearly cycle ever since.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      You and I had a conversation when I visited you on the farm about Nordic skiing because we were roughly contemporaries in high school, and Fryeburg Academy had a pretty great ski team, still does I believe.

John Weston:                       I’d like to think so.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Yes, of course, as the ski coach over there. Yarmouth also has traditionally had a very good ski team. It’s interesting for me to think that this is something that you’ve continued to do for all of these years. Some people, high school sports, they fade into their backgrounds, but for you, this has remained strong.

John Weston:                       We were just having a conversation about this at a coach’s meeting that Nordic skiing is a life sport. Not that other sports can’t be, there’s obviously pick up soccer leagues, and basketball, and things like that, but Nordic skiing is certainly something that you do for a lifetime. Also from a high school point of view, certainly when I talk to a lot of the kids that I coach, the social aspect of it. If you play a team sport, yes, you’re very close to your team within your group in your school, but you never really go beyond your comfort zone and know kids from other schools.

I still, to this day, have … I wouldn’t say daily, but monthly interaction with people that I skied with. You meet them from other parts of the start, other parts of New England. Nordic skiers are generally a pretty self motivated group, so they’re gonna go out and accomplish a lot of things there. Yeah, that’s always something that’s struck me, is the number of people that I know that I skied with before, or used to be involved with the sport. I certainly think it’s a wonderful part of the … It’s an aspect of Maine, it’s a niche sport. It can struggle at times in the state of Maine as interest change and school budgets change, but we like to say that a lot of the kids that we’re coaching are then gonna go on and support the industry, whether it’s through buying season passes or being a shop manager or groomer. I hope it can certainly continue to thrive despite the climate at times. We can’t make snow the way other ski areas can, so it’s been a struggle for certainly for some of the teams in southern Maine.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Yeah. Even back when I was in high school, many years ago, the climate still didn’t permit for snow on the ground consistently, every single winter. We actually would often travel to Fryeburg or Sacopee Valley, or other western parts of the state to ski. One thing that is interesting about skiing is that it keeps … Well, coaches and students outside. It keeps you in a time of year when people are generally wanting to just hunker down. My son played basketball, my daughter played basketball, my other daughter swims, but I was a skier. I was out there in those elements. It really does keep you connected to the seasonality of the state.

John Weston:                       Yeah, it’s an outside winter activity. It has those challenges. Certainly, a sport that has affected skiing in Maine is indoor track, which is another just indoor type of sport. No, as I said, it’s a self motivated group. A lot of times, the kids that I’m coaching or that we’re all coaching are the student council president or they’re involved in a lot of music and plays and all that. That drive helps overcome of that, “Yeah, I’m going out in the winter and putting on a race suit and going through those challenges.” Locally here, I think the Portland area certainly enjoyed Pineland. They’ve done a wonderful job of keep that sport local and not having to travel quite so much. From Fryeburg’s point of view, we’re just on that cusp of the snow belt, so a lot of times … In fact, today was a couple inches on the snow this morning when I drove down here and drove out of it fairly quickly. It’s nice that for our league, an hour away, we can have pretty much guaranteed snow.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      This self motivation that you’re describing, I would imagine this would be fairly important if you are going to be a farmer, if you are going to work with your hands in an industry where there’s some built in uncertainty with things like weather, for example, or market forces. How have you used this internal motivation to continue to work in this business?

John Weston:                       I can’t lie and say it’s a bit of a hardening process. It’s life. Life is a hardening process. Certainly, as I have had to go through some natural disasters and things that have affected our farm, it’s scary, you don’t know how it’s going to play out, but you have to have faith in your business and your family and that you can work your way through that. I certainly feel that from my point of view, that you’re better on the other side of it. You don’t like going through it at the time, but no, I think you have to have that toughness, that understanding that the hard work and you’ll get through it.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      There’s also a very strong sense of being connected to the community that I think your farm participates in. Last summer, one of the reason that we went down there is that you reached out and invited us to your community dinner, which was delicious, all the local vegetables. I think you sent me home with an enormous bag of corn, which is probably the best corn I’ve ever had, by the way.

John Weston:                       Glad to hear that.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Wonderful there. Also really impressive was the number of people that showed up to sit and essentially break bread together.

John Weston:                       That dinner has covered a lot of … The one you came to was our fourth. It’s covered a lot of ground for us, both personally, as you say, to give back to the community, to have that feeling of bringing everybody together for a simple, easy cause. It’s been wonderful from a business point of view, because as you stated, it’s a time of year we can showcase our vegetables. We see a large bump in the preceding weeks when people are coming in to buy some of those products. That was an unintended benefit, but it’s been very nice. That all started when, I think there was a PBS show called Out Standing in the Field. I don’t know if you ever heard of that, but that, I think put farm to table dinners more in the forefront. Our local chamber decided that they would get together a few local farms and we would do one of those.

They were nice events, and it worked out very well, but what stuck with me was the pricing of it. Very expensive ticket, they were made to be very exclusive, and I think that that’s a formula that you see a lot of other people use now. That these are very, very high end events, which is fine, but to me, it’s sending the wrong message. It’s saying that local food should only be available to those that can afford it and that’s not what I wanted. From that, we did that for a few years, and then that peated out a little bit. Then we had Hurricane Irene in I believe, it was 2012, getting back to our flooding conversation.

That was a flood that came at the absolutely worst time of year, which was the end of August. That’s when we had our highest crop, all of our summer crops are in full harvest, we’re just getting ready for our fall crops. They were all underwater. Effectively, we had to destroy all of it. As much as that was a tough hit for us personally, there were a number of other farms that were affected the same way. What struck me was that there was a lot food lost for our community. 100 years ago, that would have been major, but in today’s world, you can just go to the grocery store. People otherwise wouldn’t really know that, they wouldn’t … Yes, you can go and get your tomato. It may not taste as good as the one that you’d get locally, but you can still have it.

From that, I wanted to try to do something that’s let’s say, “Let’s bring something back to the forefront here where we can just focus on this.” I’m fortunate to be friends and associated with Carol Noonan in Stone Mountain Arts Center, and we were out to dinner one night. Carol’s a forward thinker as well. We were just throwing things around, and we said, “Well, what if we did our own dinner? And what if we charged nothing? What if it was just free?” We said, “Well, what about numbers?” “Well, how about 500?” So the very first year, that’s what we did. We did a completely free meal. We provided the vegetables, and we brought in a few other like minded people. The Oxford House in Fryeburg, and people that could help us out.

Couldn’t have asked in any outside event like that, we had great weather. I’m sure that how many annual events have never happened a second time because they had bad weather. We had great weather, the event went great, and we just couldn’t have asked for anything more. People have really responded to it in a number of ways, not just being gracious towards that it’s free and you’re bringing the community together, but part of our formula was there’s no speeches, there’s no 50/50 raffles, there’s no silent auctions, we didn’t want that. We wanted you to just come and focus on one event. The first few years, we actually had some … I would say backlash, but people saying, “You’re not capitalizing on things. You should put out a donation box for this charity.” We’re like, “No, no, no, that’s not what we want.”

It sometimes is amazing to hear people’s reaction to that. They almost don’t know how to handle it because our world is so complicated and where do you go where you’re not bombarded? You can’t watch the news without things scrolling across the screen and everything else. The formula was just to be very basic and very simple, and it’s worked well.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      One of things that I enjoyed about our meal is that we sat at a picnic table with people that we had never met before, who were nice enough to offer us a place at the end of the bench. We got to talk to them a little bit about where they were from and how they came to Maine, and how they came to the farm in particular. It struck me that that’s not an opportunity that you get very often in this day and age, to sit down with people for no other reason than that they’re next to you, that they offer you a place. We go to the restaurants, and we sit by ourselves often times, or we have these very self select populations that we work within. Has that been an unintended, or maybe an intended consequence of the dinners that you’re offering?

John Weston:                       Sure. We weren’t exactly going into it, we weren’t exactly how it was all going to play out. Just the logistics of it to start with, we weren’t sure what 500 people was going to look like. Where they going to come all at once? Was it going to get spread out? Where do you seat them? All those things. Part of also what we did, is it’s something that I would like to do for a while. I don’t like the concept of doing something like that as a flash in the pan. It’s something that I wanted to do for a while, so we wanted to keep it simple, but also not do it every year. I think that that’s a big part of it. We’ve been doing it every two years, and what that does it people can’t say, “Well, I’ll just go next year.” Well, you can’t go next year, you’ve got to come this year.

It puts a little higher priority on it. What we’ve basically been finding is that people will come, and we offer it for a two hour window. People will come and they’ll stay to have the experience that you talked about, which we wanted, but we weren’t sure what it was going to wind up being. They can come and they can talk to people. Some of the nice comments that you hear is, “I grew up with this person and we live in the same town, I never talk to ’em. We talked for a half hour the other night at your place.” Yeah, those are the small little victories that you like to see, the unintended benefits.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      That’s also a nice reminder that the food can really shine on its own. That it was obviously very well and lovingly prepared by Carol and the rest of the people that offered the dinner. When you’re eating fresh corn, or when you’re having … I think my favorite part was maybe the maple syrup on the vanilla ice cream, which I don’t think I’ve had since I was a kid. You really can just taste the food in a way that’s different than when we go out places. It gets dressed up or made to feel fancy, I guess. Which is also good, it’s just different.

John Weston:                       Yeah. It can be over prepared, and that’s another reason for what we came up with. Yeah, and I’ll be the same way. I don’t want to eat that plainly every single night, but part of what we’re offering, sweet corn. Yes, we have butter, but a lot of people don’t even use it. Raw carrots, some basic salads and things like that. I remember we had a farm meeting once, and they just brought out a plate of fresh asparagus. You often forget about how good something is just on its own. If you’re gonna go out to a restaurant, yes, you feel like it has to be prepared a little bit more for you. I understand those formulas, but not, that was definitely a part of it, is that we want to have the focus be on the food. It’s easy when you get restaurants and chefs involved that they want to add their touches to it and increase that part of. That’s why I say with Carol at Stone Mountain, and Johnathon at the Oxford House. Like minded people. They understood very quickly what the concept of this was, and there’s never been any internal fight that way.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      One of the things that I continue to hear about from people who have lived in Maine a long time is the necessity of having different things that they do as income streams. This is something that we have really never given up on. As a community, many of us are doing more than one job. This is certainly true in your case. You have a farm, but you have a farm that sells Christmas trees, and you sell sweet corn in the summer, and you also work as a Nordic ski coach. It seems to be the nature of it if you choose to live in a place like Maine.

John Weston:                       Yeah. I wish that that could translate more into a seasonal workforce. Like any small business, our number one probably is our labor source. If there was more of some sort of established seasonal workforce that could move from the farms in the summer, tourist industry, into the ski industry. A lot of that’s based on healthcare. People have to have those benefits. I understand that, but labor is a big problem for any small business, and especially for a farm, a seasonal farm. We close our doors for the first quarter of the year. We go from maybe a payroll at 18 during the summer to zero. That’s a big challenge for a rural state.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Maybe as we have these conversations, solutions will continue to bubble to the surface. We haven’t solved them yet, but it seems like maybe even you’ve already identified one. Ski industry, farm, there’s got to be some ways that this can be approached that maybe we just haven’t thought of yet.

John Weston:                       You would hope so. I’d be very open that we have two Jamaicans that come and work for us. They’ve been with us, the same men for 10 years. They’re like family to us that are part of a federal Visa program. This year, we had two girls from Romania as a part of the J1 Visa program. Both of those programs are being discussed in the bigger government, and so we have to watch that. The truth is, is that a lot of the Maine workforce, or a lot of the Maine businesses are dependent on foreign labor. That can easily get into a larger societal discussion, but no, those are the facts of reality. It’s something that we have to deal with, and you would never think that as a small farm, that I’d have to be up on the current immigration policies, but I do. It’s another ruffle of being a small business.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well, I appreciate the work that you’re doing.

John Weston:                       Thank you.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I know that it’s complicated, and I know that you have to think in small ways and big ways on a regular basis, but I do appreciate it and I appreciate your having us as guests this summer at your farm dinner. Hopefully we’ll make it down not next summer, but the summer after that. Two years.

John Weston:                       That’s right.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I’ve been speaking with John Weston, who is a seventh generation farmer, who currently grows 60 acres of fresh vegetables out in the Fryeburg area. Thank you so much for coming in.

John Weston:                       Thank you.

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Dr Lisa Belisle:                      You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 331. Our guests have included Birch Shambaugh and John Weston. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as @drlisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr Lisa Belisle, thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Brittany Cost, our assistant producer is Shelby Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #330: Mitchell Lench and Jessie Dowling + Sam May

Introducer:                            You are listening to Love Maine Radio. Hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 330. Airing for the first time on Sunday, January 14, 2018. Today’s guests include Mitchell Lench, founder of Treetops Capital, which invests in sustainable agriculture and aquaculture businesses here in Maine. Jessie Dowling, the owner of Fuzzy Udder Creamery and President of the Maine Cheese Guild, and Sam May, Advisory Board Chair at the Maine Harvest Credit Project. Thank you for joining us.

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Lisa Belisle:                             Mitchell Lench is Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Treetops Capital, an impact investment and management company founded in 2008. He previously worked in finance in several institutions, including Bank of America and Credit Suisse. Thanks for coming in today.

Mitchell Lench:                   Thank you for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             Talk to me about Treetops Capital. What is that and what are you doing in this job?

Mitchell Lench:                   Treetops Capital is an impact investment management firm. Impact investing, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is investing with deliberate impact, generally social and environmental impact, but also trying to achieve financial returns. There are certain areas that you can have both. You can have a market based solution to a problem as opposed to just using philanthropic dollars to achieve that call. Within the impact investing world we focused our first fund was in the microfinance area where it was focused in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We also have a fund in Romania focused on agribusiness so missing links into the value chain in terms of the agricultural market there. More recently in Maine we’ve been focusing on aquaculture investments.

Lisa Belisle:                             So how did you get interested in this type of work?

Mitchell Lench:                   My interest in it really started back in graduate school. I went to a program, it was an international public affairs program at Columbia that early on in my career, before even my career really started, the whole area of sustainable development was really starting to emerge. At that time it was kind of after the 70s and 80s there was a lot of money being thrown at issues and with famine relief that weren’t very effective. What I kind of learned in the graduate program is that in order for programs to be sustainable, development to be sustainable, generally there needs to be a market based element to that as well so you don’t crowd out local. Say, if it’s a famine issue, local farmers. Through that program it was kind of a good combination of learning about economic and political development but also getting some hard skills in business and finance.

Lisa Belisle:                             As you’re talking I’m remembering the 80s and I guess even into the 90s a little bit where we were trying to solve problems like failing farms or famine across the ocean, and Hands Across America. Big relief programs that we all wanted to join into. Even then there being some skepticism as to whether these things actually worked. Was this some awareness that you became … Is this something you became immediately aware of when you were watching this all unfold?

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, I mean, I think I learned more from some of the people who had been living through that for those years where they’ve realized there were a lot of unintended consequences to very, what were good intentions of famine, for instance, the famine relief issue. What really we focused on is how do you harness the market based issues and locally, how do you make sure that you’re working within either the local capital markets or working with local business people? At that point microfinance, which was hardly known to anyone, was the big buzzword and I learned about how you can empower people with small business loans and how that can really affect people’s lives much more than necessarily giving them a small donation.

Lisa Belisle:                             So give me an example of an unintended consequence.

Mitchell Lench:                   Unintended consequence in terms of, for instance, the famine issues were there was a lot of food flown in from the US and Western Europe into it was mainly in Africa at the time where the famine was occurring. What would happen is that the local farmers could not compete with all the free food coming in and then they went out of business and they couldn’t pay their bills and keep their farms going. Then you have a continuous circle of famine because you’ve kind of eliminated a lot of the farmers who were involved in that market.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s actually really distressing to hear that that goes on. Especially given that most people who donate to a relief effort are hoping to do good, not hoping to perpetuate a problem.

Mitchell Lench:                   Right, and I think now in today’s world and development world, whether it’s the UN, or UNICEF, or World Bank, I think almost all the development institutions, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, they have this awareness and they’re very aware of how you don’t crowd out local markets when you’re trying to solve an issue. I think we’ve moved on far from back in the 70s and the 80s.

Lisa Belisle:                             Tell me how your organization has gone from focusing overseas to focusing on something that’s very close to home and aquaculture.

Mitchell Lench:                   When I moved up to Maine in 2011 and when I moved to Maine I was determined to do something more local and I had spent most of my career in developing markets and I find it interesting, and I think there’s huge needs that still occur, but also I had this urge to do something closer to home, not to mention I have a couple kids and I wanted to not be on the plane as much. When I came to Maine I started going to some of these aquaculture conferences that U of Maine were putting on and learning about different parts of that market. Aquaculture particularly got me … I became interested because one, Maine has a very good infrastructure for aquaculture. I think in terms of the US we may be the leading state in aquaculture. We have a lot of universities and research centers involved. Also, from helping the oceans and from a sustainability issue, I think aquaculture has to be part of the whole problem we’re having with overfishing and different degradation of our waters.

That’s how I kind of … I started learning just by going to some of these sessions being put on and then I started, I got involved in an investment in a yellowtail onshore farm called Acadia Harvest, which was a first yellowtail farm really in the US. Really interesting technology they were using. The fish were being bought by some very high end restaurants and distributors loved the fish. It was a way to have more local fish without overfishing in terms of the water.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yellowtail is a tuna?

Mitchell Lench:                   There is a yellowtail tuna and I actually don’t … I don’t know exactly, which part of the species of yellowtail in terms of the [inaudible 00:08:42], but it’s a high end fish that if you go to a sushi restaurant, yellowtail is quite common. That’s one of the, or I think, one of the opportunities is in the aquaculture market is on the higher end fishes that are generally flown in. 90% of the fish that we eat in America is not only brought in from other countries, but it’s flown in. If you can kind of eliminate flying in fish from say, Japan or other places and growing it locally it has a huge impact I believe.

Lisa Belisle:                             Aquaculture, so you’ve just described one type of fish. Does it also include things like oysters, mussels, seaweed, or is there some other broader definition?

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, I mean sometimes there’s other terminology in terms of mariculture and the rest, but it’s all under the aquaculture umbrella and Maine, I think, is most known for its shellfish aquaculture as well as seaweed, which is becoming a very big part of this industry in terms of aquaculture. I partnered with a fellow named Tollef Olson who had been one the pioneers in farming seaweed and we created a business called Ocean’s Balance. Our goal is to try to mainstream seaweed into American’s diets so it’s not this exotic ingredient, but it’s more of something you would eat in your everyday soup or stew. It has so many positive benefits both for the ocean as well as for your health. Not to mention it has glutamates, these amino acids, which give gives the umami flavor so you can reduce some of the salt intake in terms of other food you’re eating.

Lisa Belisle:                             You’re definitely singing a tune that I have sung before. I love seaweed.

Mitchell Lench:                   That’s great.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think it’s really important for health and I actually, I believe that we are going to see with its increased use, decreased thyroid problems in our population in the state of Maine.

Mitchell Lench:                   That’s something a lot of people are unaware of, but it does in terms of the iodine and regulating thyroid issues and plus all of the other vitamins, 60 some odd vitamins and minerals. It is just this wonder food. One of the things that impressed me most about seaweed, especially looking also at finfish aquaculture. The issue you have in finfish aquaculture, one of the tough challenges that everyone’s really trying to focus on is the input of forage fish, small fish to feed the aquaculture fish. It’s not a very sustainable business model so they’re coming out with other ingredients that could be used that are not forage fish to have fish meal. In seaweed it’s the only zero input food I’m aware of where there’s no other feed that’s required that’s not naturally occurring in the ocean. There’s no pesticides. There’s no fresh water. From just a pure sustainable type of food source it’s unmatched as far as anything I’ve looked at.

Lisa Belisle:                             It also is known as something that essentially detoxifies the environment. We know that when they had their nuclear reactor problem over in Japan that they were finding that the seaweed was using … they were using it as a kind of giant sponge I guess to soak up a lot of the stuff that was being spewn out there.

Mitchell Lench:                   That is definitely the case. We’re looking at issues in terms of coastal remediation in terms of planting seaweed along more polluted parts of the coast, whether in Maine or elsewhere. This is something the nature conversancy is also evaluating. You may be familiar with the work that Nichole Price is doing at Bigelow Labs where she has sensors around seaweed farms looking at how it changes the water column from absorbing CO2, and nitrogen, and phosphorous. The studies are showing it has a halo effect in the area where you plant seaweed, which is positive from an acidification perspective, which also has an impact on our shellfish because the acidification is impacting the growth of shellfish. I think there’s all these untapped applications for seaweed way beyond just the food and fertilizer, which you hear most about. The Department of Energy, just to give you an example, just put out a call for proposal and they gave out grants for 22 million dollars. Maine absorbed some of that to scale up seaweed farming.

They were looking at it both from an energy source of biofuel, but other application as well because there’s beyond food. You have food and fuel. You have fertilizer. You have animal feed. The list goes on from there.

Lisa Belisle:                             Does it interest you that you have all of this financial background but you’ve really gotten drawn into the science of this, and more than the science, sort of the ecology and all of the sustainability factors that are involved? That’s a much bigger thing than just understanding finance.

Mitchell Lench:                   It is and I think kind of marrying those two parts together, having some … I’m really happy that I did spend some years working for some big financial institutions and learning how the markets work, how some of the financial technology, and learning some of the skills. Having that exposure plus some development exposure and putting those together, I think, is a good combination. I’m seeing more … What’s really encouraging to me is I’m seeing more and more students now who are kind of following that type of path where there’s now kind of a defined world of impact, and investing, and other areas of social entrepreneurs where it really didn’t occur back when I was in school but now that’s becoming more mainstream. I think a lot of issues that we’re facing where you had people who kind of come from cross disciplines like that, some important issues can be solved.

Lisa Belisle:                             Talk to me about Fish 2.0.

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, Fish 2.0, which I just got back from last week. It was at Stanford University. They hold this about every year or two. It’s a … What they do, they put it together as a contest to bring all different types of sustainable seafood and fisheries, technology, companies together to pitch new ideas. The reason they have it out at Stanford is you have the Silicon Valley and you have a lot of new venture capitalist who are interested in maybe taking some of their earnings and wealth and putting it some good use in terms of some of these new technologies that are emerging.

Some of the areas that they’re focusing on are these alternative fish feeds. Aquaculture becomes more sustainable. They make fish feed now out of algae products. Out of black soldier fly larvae. A whole mix of things and these were companies that presented on that. Also, things like bycatch. Fish that are caught out on fishing vessels that the fishermen don’t actually want and they have now smart releases in their nets to allow those fish to survive. A whole slew of interesting new developments going on in the seafood world from the consumer perspective all the way to the fishermen in aquaculture. It’s just a great gathering of people and there’s really one or two people who put this all together and I think they’re having tremendous success in changing the way our oceans are fished and try and protect it.

Lisa Belisle:                             What lessons do you think that we here in Maine can learn from work that is being done across the nation, and really across the world?

Mitchell Lench:                   I think Maine, in some ways, is a leader within the US in a lot of aquaculture technology and new developments. Also, there’s a lot of issues going on overseas that I think Maine can learn from. My own hope is that Maine becomes more of also a technology hub with aquaculture where we have some of the bioscience, maybe people from Boston moving up. I know the Gulf of Maine Research institute is very interested in encouraging that and some other institutions here in Maine. We have, I think, almost all the right ingredients to really create a viable industry outside of just the production of farmed fish. A lot of that I think requires bringing in some new people as well into the state that have certain science backgrounds to help this technology move forward.

Lisa Belisle:                             How do we get the people who have lived in Maine and have fished and farmed along the coast, really for hundreds of years, how do we get them into conversations with people who are more on the technology side of things?

Mitchell Lench:                   I think there’s quite a bit of education going on right now with coastal communities, with fisherman. The Island Institute is doing some great work. They just did whole seaweed study to bring more fishermen and lobster men into the seaweed industry. U of Maine puts on a whole slew of programs, which we’re involved with some in terms of teaching aquaculture and the science of aquaculture to both students, but also to adults. To teachers, we did a … Tollef and my colleague Lisa Scali did a boot camp for teachers this summer with the University of Maine to start getting them educated in terms of how aquaculture and science mix together. I think there are some really interesting developments going on and I think if more people get involved in doing that we’ll see some transition going on with some of the communities, local communities.

Lisa Belisle:                             I would assume that there are things that people who are in aquaculture and biotech could actually learn from individuals who have been out there doing this type of work for decades.

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, that’s absolutely correct. I think it’s two way street in terms of the knowledge base and the Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association, I think they do a really good job in terms of bringing the fishermen together with other constituents. We learn from them and it’s not just a scientist looking at this in a very sterile environment. I’m a trustee at the Nature Conservancy in Maine and very focused right now on marine science and changing the focus away from just forestry. Although, forestry is still a key part into looking at different solutions, whether it’s from a river, the Penobscot River Project to projects in the Gulf of Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             One of the things that has been happening lately is conversations around bringing environmental regulations. Deciding whether they belong more at the state level, more at the national level. It seems like it would be really a problem if we decided that every state should really be responsible for whatever was going on within its borders and ignore the fact that the borders really don’t mean anything to the trees, and the rivers, and things that grow.

Mitchell Lench:                   Yeah, I think there is … Some issues I think right now being decided at a local level, luckily, I think within for Maine the local momentum for creating sustainable aquaculture and some other programs is moving in, I think, a good direction. Maine can act as a demonstration state for other states in our country that may be not as progressive. In terms of the balance between federal, there has to be some strong federal regulations. In some ways the US has some of the strictest regulations and I’m talking now about aquaculture because that’s an area that I see this in most. What’s going on is you were mentioning between federal and state, but it’s also international. So the lowest common denominator countries, a lot of times is where the production flows to. So some parts of Latin America or some parts of Asia. Really what I would like to see is even at a federal level, more encouragement of sustainable aquaculture in the US so we don’t have so much production going overseas, or we’re not really paying attention, because what’s happening in South America can really impact us where we live as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             What would you ideally like your children to grow up with? I know that you have two children, you’re married, you live in Cape Elizabeth. You mentioned when they were younger you really wanted to kind of be more available to them as a parent. What type of world do you want to see them live in?

Mitchell Lench:                   I want … One of the main reasons wanted to move to Maine and with the kids is having grown up and coming to Maine a lot as a child and the nature here, I think, just living in Maine with the wilderness and being exposed to it and the people around you. I think that has the biggest influence on my kids and in a very positive way. I also, I try to expose them to some of the issues going on without scaring them. Some of the ecological issues going on in the world. Showing them where they can have some impact in their lives.

I think Maine, with so many institutions in Maine, whether it’s GMRI doing the program for sixth graders or fifth graders, they have an awareness that I know going back to cities where we have some friends, the kids are not growing up with that type of awareness around them. I’m actually pretty hopeful that my kids will be pretty evolved by the time they get to be adults and hopefully they pursue something that they’re very thoughtful in terms of what their career … the impact their career could have on the world.

Lisa Belisle:                             What is your most interesting or exciting venture as of right now that Treetops Capital is a part of?

Mitchell Lench:                   One of the most exciting ventures right now is a project we have going on in Romania, which is a mushroom compost factory. It sounds kind of esoteric and not something very well known, but they’re actually very complex factories or farms to put together. They’re large investments. Romania, for years, for decades, they had imported compost, which is a very heavy substrate to import from Hungary and from the Netherlands. That was having a … just dampening any prospects of growing a real mushroom industry in Romania. There was a lot of mushroom farmers who were just not able to compete with other countries. We built, with the help of the US government as well, providing some financing and then private investors, a full commercial scale production facility of compost, which is now producing compost for small farmers, mushroom farmers throughout Romania. So, that’s exciting.

Lisa Belisle:                             That is fascinating. Along with seaweed, compost is another one of my favorite topics so I feel like we’re on the same wavelength here. I appreciate your coming in today. I’ve been speaking with Mitch Lench, Mitchell, who is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Treetops Capital and Impact Investment and Management Company found in 2008. Keep up the good work.

Mitchell Lench:                   Great. Thank you, very much.

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Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie Dowling is the owner of Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitfield and President of the Maine Cheese Guild. Sam May is the Advisory Board Chair at the Maine Harvest Credit Project, an organization aiming to open a credit union supporting small farms and food businesses.

Thank you for coming in.

Sam May:                                 Thank you for having us.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, thanks for having us.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m interested in what you’re doing because we talk a lot about creating sustainability for small businesses and this is a very important step. Making funds available through a credit union, which is interesting.

Sam May:                                 Yeah, well, it’s very interesting. It’s also an innovative approach. Maine farms and food businesses definitely need access to appropriately priced and scaled financing. Maine Harvest Credit Project, which is looking to form a credit union statewide under the auspices of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association (MOFGA) and Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) to create a financing platform that can be available to farmers for farmland access and food producers on a statewide basis.

Lisa Belisle:                             So why a credit union versus just a small bank?

Sam May:                                 Well, the short answer is that we’re raising 2.4 million to start a credit union. To start a new bank would be 25 to 35 million so it in order of magnitude less. We believe a credit union is the right platform to use. Obviously it’s less expensive. It also is a member governed cooperatively structured institution. It can use a lot of … It has access to a lot of resources that in the form of a bank would be too big for the scale of the problem in Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie, tell me what your experience has been with this organization.

Jessie Dowling:                    Well, I’ve been in communication with Sam May and Scott Budde and I’ve been really excited for the potential for a credit union that’s focusing on farmers and the farm based business because farmers like me end up in a situation where we have a hard time finding the credit for the projects that we’re doing. You can get a mortgage from the Farm Service Agency, but there’s a lot of red strings attached around how much milk you produce on your farm if you’re making cheese, or how much of the raw product you’re producing and if you’re doing a value added product. It might not make sense to produce it all yourself right away as you’re trying to build your business. That’s where I have been really interested in the Maine Harvest Credit Union.

Lisa Belisle:                             It sounds like what the Maine Harvest Credit Union would be able to offer would be kind of something more along the small scales that small farms and small businesses would need.

Sam May:                                 Well, we think it’s appropriately scaled. We envision three loan products. One is the land loan product in the $250,000 range and then business loans in the $100,000 range and equipment loans in the $25,000 range. Your typical evolving farm, diversified farm in Maine often is looking at farmland in the $200,00 to $300,000 price range. We can offer a product that would be very compelling with excellent rates for that sort of access. In Jessie’s case, Maine cheese producers, a lot of our stronger evolving smaller foodstuff manufacturers that are concentrating on very high quality local product, sourced from local products, they really are looking at business loans for expansion of a cheese room, a dairy room. In the $50,000 to $150,000 size. We’re gonna be appropriately … That’s gonna be right in our sweet spot in terms of what we lend. It’s not for really big, big, big projects. They will move on to commercial banks, but for the evolving small food producer in Maine that needs a new cheese room or a new cider processing facility for hard cider, some of the craft distilleries, they are in need of funds that would be right in our sweet spot.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie, how did you choose to focus on cheese?

Jessie Dowling:                    Oh, well, I did a Masters in Food Policy in London and was learning about kind of food issues and food insecurity, and issues with industrial agriculture on a global scale, and I felt like the best way I could really make a difference was to become a farmer and I worked on a lot of different farms and I found myself through the MOFGA, Maine Organic Farmer’s Gardener’s Association’s apprenticeship program. I found two apprenticeships, one at a sheep dairy and one at a goat dairy in Appleton and Union. I just … It just clicked. I started working for Appleton Creamery and I stayed there for five years until I learned that I wanted to do it on my own.

Lisa Belisle:                             I see that you have a goat tattoo on your arm so I’m assuming you must have an affinity for that particular animal.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, I started with goats. I also love sheep equally. Yeah. Sheep and goats milk is awesome. I also use cow’s milk cheese. I’m pretty into milks.

Lisa Belisle:                             Sam, is this part of the business important to you? I know that you are on the board of the Maine Organic Farmer’s and Gardener’s Association. You’re also on the steering committee of the Slow Money Maine Organization. Is food important to our economy?

Sam May:                                 I think food is very important to our economy and a re-localized food system in Maine, it’ll have a lot of health benefits for people. We know that nutrient dense food is much … is incredibly important for people’s health. I would just back up and say a word about MOFGA and MFT, Maine Farmland Trust. We’re very blessed in this state to have very strong institutions that have been working very hard for a long period of time. MOFGA through its journey person program is training new farmers. Maine Farmland Trust is helping to find access to farmland for farmers. The restaurant community here in Portland is a huge … is hugely important in this sector.

Mainers have an appreciation … We’ve always had an appreciation for local food. Blueberries, lobsters, fiddleheads, you know, we like to eat food in season, but we import 95% of the food we consume comes from out of state. There’s a keen interest in a revitalized food system in Maine. The Portland restaurant scene definitely showcases all of that. We have a lot of producers working hard that have been trained through MOFGA, Maine Farmland Trust, to be on the land, to be producing food, and now making value added great tasting cheeses, craft brews, craft distills, foodstuff, food products. We have a lot of work to do to revitalize that infrastructure and those production facilities. We need access to fairly priced capital for growth to occur in those sectors.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is there something about the emotional connection that we make with food and specifically locally produced foods like goat’s milk cheese, or sheep’s milk cheese, or even a cow’s milk cheese, that is going to help us be more successful in the future at getting locally grown and locally created products available on a more year round basis?

Sam May:                                 Jessie, do you want to speak to that first because you’re a producer?

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, I would say yes. Obviously I’m biased but I do believe that farmers are the best stewards of the land and if we take care of our land and environment we’ll be able to produce more food for people, for multiple generations. I think industrial agriculture has proven time and time again that it’s not sustainable and so not only is it better for the environment, but knowing who’s growing your food, knowing how they’re taking care of their animals, knowing about where that food is coming from. I have to believe that that is going to make a difference in the future.

Sam May:                                 Yeah, I think it’s going to make a tremendous difference. Consumers have a real desire to eat locally sourced food because they understand the health benefits of that. They also understand the community benefit of that. It’s a re-localized food economy, which will help to revitalize our rural economies and it will also help with population health. People understand that. Look at the growth in fermented foods. The connection to the microbiome to the important health considerations for eating fermented foods for personal health, but I think a lot of people are responding to fermented foods. There’s an explosion in fermented foods. We have some great producers of a wide variety of fermented food products. Do people … Are they going out and shopping because they want their microbiome to be healthy? No, but they do know that at some intuitive level. I think that’s an important … people want to eat a locally produced cheese, a locally sourced milk. People are interested in terroir in their wine. Well, why shouldn’t they make the connection to their parsnip?

It’s the same set of features. It’s a revitalized soil that is producing the health benefits in the foods that people are eating. Then you have all the economic multiplier effects of producing and sourcing food that’s local.

Lisa Belisle:                             In many of the conversations I’ve had recently I’m running across people similar to you, Jessie, that have an academic background in the subject but also very practical interest in the subject of food systems. It seems like this is becoming more and more important that the two worlds need to co-exist. Actually along with the idea of being able to finance things.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, I think that the more you know the more you realize you don’t know and I felt like learning how to actually produce food was the best way to influence farm policy. That’s why I’m really excited to be working with the Maine Cheese Guild to promote cheese in Maine. We’re really hoping that when people look at Maine and they think, “Oh, I’m gonna come to Maine for a vacation,” and they think lobsters and blueberries, they’re gonna also think, “Maine has these amazing cheeses.” We’re the fastest growing state in the country for cheese makers. We have probably more cheese makers per capita than anywhere. There’s almost 100 facilities in Maine that are making cheese and they’re all small scale. It’s a very exciting time to be a cheese maker.

I think the biggest issue with cheese making in Maine right now is we have all these new producers and as we all are learning to grow our businesses, we’re finding that going from a small scale to mid scale, to kind of trying to long term age our businesses is very difficult in this current economic climate, which is why I’m so excited to be talking more to the Maine Harvest Credit Project.

Sam May:                                 So, Lisa, on the sort of new immigrants to Maine, the well educated people that are coming here and looking at putting down some roots to become farmers or food producers, that’s an incredibly key aspect. MAFGA’s journey person program is there. Our traditional ways of passing on farming knowledge from one generation to the other have been broken by various larger economic forces and now we have a lot of young people that are college educated. They show up with a lot of interest and knowledge about global food issues but they don’t know how to fix a John Deere tractor. We have big infrastructure and educational gaps that have to be filled if we’re gonna bring this thing home and really revitalize and re-localize our food economy then we’re gonna have to have infrastructure elements there. Maine Harvest Credit Project, Credit Union being one of those.

We’re blessed here in Maine to have some very important institutions that have been working for a very long time, specifically MAFGA and Maine Farmland Trust that have been working to help provide training for young farmers. To help grow our markets. There’s a lot of support for our farmer’s markets and for our food distribution system. Maine Farmland Trust has a lot of very key programs for, not only protecting farmland, but putting that farmland back into the hands of young farmers for production. We also have our Slow Money Maine chapter here in Maine. It’s one of the largest in the country and it’s been working for several years, many years now to help provide financing for food entrepreneurs and a lot of other parties that are working on this very difficult problem of how do we actually reconstruct a local food system and have that food system underpinned by some of the elements of infrastructure that are so key.

Whether that’s new slaughterhouses or whether that’s some grain processing. I’m thinking of the Somerset Grist Mill in Skowhegan, which has emerged as a very large player and is now contracting with farmers to grow human grade grains for milling and production. We also won, another instance I can think of is some of our barley malt producers, Blue Ox nearby in Lisbon. Our growth, growing main craft brewers are now able to source barley malt that’s grown in Maine and produced into barley malt here in Maine so they can produce 100% locally sourced barley malt for their beer. All those businesses have taken significant infrastructure upgrades that have required capital and I think that’s what we’re talking about. It’s very difficult to rebuild some of the elements of infrastructure that will underpin a re-localized food system.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie, you said that you spent time learning about the trade from a local farm and that was very important to you. How did you find out about the local farm needing someone who could take part in their organization in this learning capacity.

Jessie Dowling:                    Right, well that was one of the reasons why I was farming in Maine is that I had heard about MOFGA’s apprenticeship program and it was really easy online to read different listings of different farms and I visited about 12 farms in 2007 when I was looking to apprentice. I ended up settling up on Appleton Creamery and [inaudible 00:41:22] Sheep Dairy, which were in neighboring towns and split my time between the two. The listings were really helpful and I was able to then visit the farms and kind of make the right fit.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is this something that you had any experience with growing up when you were in school? I’m not sure exactly where you’re from.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, no, I’m originally from right outside Washington, DC from the Virginia side.

Lisa Belisle:                             So there’s not a whole lot of cows out there, or sheep?

Jessie Dowling:                    No, there’s actually no livestock in Arlington County. When I went to college in California, I went to one of the Claremont colleges in Claremont, California and there was a student led gorilla garden that became part of the college’s master plan on Pomona’s campus and because students were learning about farming on their own terms and then they planted hundreds of fruit trees on a small several acre plot, and the school saw how much learning was happening on this hands on way. It was really exciting part to be part of. I was hooked after that. It was like, wow, you can engage local community through food and that just sold it for me.

Lisa Belisle:                             Somehow you found your way to London to study this further.

Jessie Dowling:                    Yeah, I worked at the Center for Food Safety as an intern in 2004 and I was working on fighting genetically modified foods in DC and I found out about some master’s programs in London that were on that topic and it was a very exciting time.

Sam May:                                 I think Jessie’s … you know, her story is interesting and it’s not all that normal. In some ways it’s exceptional, but in other ways it’s indicative of some of the strong work that’s been done here in Maine by MAFGA and MFT, and other institutions. Jessie went to college in California. She went to university in London. She’s from Washington, DC. How did she get to Maine and why did she come here and there were institutions on the ground that were working at solving real problems that she could see from a conceptual perspective were meaningful and important. Why did she end up on the ground here? That’s an interesting question and I think it’s because we’ve actually been doing a lot of good work here in Maine from a very Maine perspective to tackle problems locally.

The situation on the ground that she saw here in Maine attracted her from her big conceptual perspective of what the problem were in the world with food system. Now she find herself in Whitfield with sheep and goats, and a neighbor’s cows producing some really good cheese that’s resonating with the market. That’s what we have going for us here in Maine. We need to have other elements of infrastructure to support the growth of her vision and her product to take her craft artisan cheese to another level and allow her to grow to the level that she’s comfortable with. That doesn’t mean that she has to make the next largest nationwide cheese, but she has an opportunity to grow her business and the Maine Cheese Guild is working hard to support all the cheese producers in Maine to reach their full potential. That includes market development and it’s gonna also require infrastructure in terms of financing to help fund that.

Lisa Belisle:                             One of the questions that I have been pondering as you’ve been talking is the fact that Vermont is known for cows and cheese. We happen to be known for lobster, and blueberries, and I don’t know, I guess summer corn. We’ve always had cows so why did Vermont get to be known as the cheese place and the cow place? How did that happen?

Jessie Dowling:                    That’s a really good question. One thing that I do look at is that the way that government funding for cheese, there’s a … I’m not sure about the names of all the organizations, but there’s no money coming from the Maine State Government going to cheese, but I know that in Vermont there’s quite a bunch of funds that are going into the … I don’t know if it’s going directly to the Cheese Council or if it’s going to cheese makers, but I think their state government is more supportive of their cheese community. It might be because they do have that notoriety. I think they’ve had cheese making happening in Vermont perhaps on a larger scale longer. They have Cabot, a much larger producer than what we have in Maine. Our largest producer is Pineland Farms and they’re not, they’re large, but I don’t think they have the market reach that Cabot has so I think we’re a growing industry and hopefully over time we’ll get more support from our state government as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             It just speaks to the fact that there’s a lot of back story to all of these things. It’s not as straightforward as Vermont has good cows and therefore the best cheese, and therefore that’s what they’ve become known for. I mean, there are lobsters in other parts of the country, in other parts of the world and whatever it was about Maine, somehow that all worked to that benefit and now we have to figure out how to make it work for other industries.

Sam May:                                 So the lobster business in Maine is about, I think, the boat landing, it’s about a half a billion dollars in 500, 600 million dollars. That’s a large business but it has an iconic place in our consciousness. We’ve got a number of small food sectors. How big is craft brewing now in Maine? It may be approaching that amount. Cheese is maybe a $20 million a year, $25 million a year business in Maine. It could be $125 million a year in five years but there’s a lot of infrastructure required. I think Maine’s a large state. It’s as big as the other five states of New England combined.

We have twice the population of Vermont. There are a lot of other sectors that are vying and legitimately vying for mine share in terms of how Mainers conceive of their local food. I see no reason why artisan produced local cheese in Maine can’t become a much bigger element of Maine’s food consciousness. We have the land, we have the cows, we have the resources, and we have the young entrepreneurs such as Jessie and older entrepreneurs that are also working on cheese production. We want to be able to support the new food sectors that are going to emerge that make the best use of Maine’s resources, and certainly cheese is one of those, but there are a lot of other candidates here in Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             Did we have to almost go through this, I guess this downplaying of the importance of local foods in order for us to come back again so strong? I mean, back in the 80s there with big agriculture there were a lot of farms that failed in a very big way nationally, but I think also in Maine. It almost seems as though we had to get that far down to the bottom before we actually started to value small farms again. I’m just putting this out there as a thought.

Sam May:                                 Yeah, I don’t know if we had to. I mean the … Nixon’s USDA Secretary, Earl Butz, who was an Economist Engineer from Purdue, I believe, or maybe Notre Dame. I think it was Purdue. He’s the one who famously said, “Get big or get out.” There was a Wendell Berry movie at Space Gallery a couple of weeks ago and they were very clear about, yes there was a lot of emphasis on the USDA’s official government policy was, “We’re gonna scale up food production. We’re gonna reduce the number of farmers.” As a result of that the USDA has a rural program, which actually supports housing for displaced farm people in rural communities throughout the country. There were a lot of economic forces at work to scale up food and to marginalize, to de-emphasize, and to put out of business small scale producers.

That’s come at a tremendous, tremendous cost to population health in the US. We have a crisis of obesity, diabetes, chronic complex diseases. Those are all directly related to the production of an industrial commodity agriculture product that is the biggest vector of public disease in the country, I think, that we’ve ever experienced. We’re not gonna get out of that if we don’t have a better local nutrient dense food. It could be local, it could not be local. Local’s a good way to approach this. If you want to eat nutrient dense food that’s actually good for you and not a vector of public disease, try local organic, locally sourced food.

Lisa Belisle:                             This isn’t the first time that we’ve dealt with people who have come back to the land, essentially. Maine was known for this back several decades. It seems as though there’s almost a cyclical aspect to this. Would you agree?

Sam May:                                 Definitely. You asked me about how I got to Maine. I came to Maine in 1954 because my father was the first instructor of wood turning at Haystack two years after it was founded. Haystack Mountain School of Crafts was a back to the land movement of post World War II urbanites who wanted to move to New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont. The Nearings moved to Vermont in the early 1950s. I grew up in the back to the … I was from Maine. I didn’t have to move back to Maine, but when I graduated from college everybody was moving to Searsmont, and Montville, and Appleton in the 70s and the late 60s. We’ve had successive waves … This is a clear wave pattern. There is nothing … You can’t describe it as anything but a series of waves and we keep coming back to this, but now we have a very clear strong opportunity to catch this wave. Let’s get all 10 toes up on front of the board and be going down the wave, not be swimming to get up the wave.

We don’t want to miss this wave. This is an important opportunity and we’re so blessed here in Portland, we have a food business here in Portland, a restaurant scene that’s leading that way. We have a lot of consumers that are passionate about eating local food and we need to support the producers and the farmers and give them some economic vitality and viability. I couldn’t agree with you more, Lisa. This is just another wave, but let’s catch it a little better this time.

Lisa Belisle:                             Jessie, did you know that you are going to be part of this movement or did you just have a sense that you were following what you were following what it was that you were meant to be doing?

Jessie Dowling:                    Well, I think I had a political awakening when I was volunteering on a Native American reservation in Arizona when I was in college. Seeing the connection between people and land, and how important water was, and how if we don’t protect our environment then people can’t have the cultures that they have been having. Those connections just made me have a fire under me since then. I’m kind of on a track to supporting small scale local agriculture. That’s kind of my life goal.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, I appreciate you both taking the time out of your very busy schedules to come in today.

I’ve been speaking with Jessie Dowling who is the owner of Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitfield and President of the Maine Cheese Guild, and also Sam May who is an Advisory Board Chair at the Maine Harvest Credit Project, an organization aiming to open a credit union supporting small farms and food businesses.

Thank you, so much for your good work and for your time today.

Sam May:                                 Thank you, Lisa.

Jessie Dowling:                    Thank you for having us.

Lisa Belisle:                             You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 330. Our guests have included Mitchell Lench, Sam May, and Jessie Dowling. For more information on our guest and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Introducer:                            Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our Editorial Producer is Brittany Cost. Our Assistant Producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our Community Development Manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our Executive Producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Outro Songs:                         All is quiet on the Western front. I hear the ground beneath my feet. Scraping the crackle as I move along. There ain’t nobody here but me. But in a couple days they’ll open up the gates and the streets will flood with a thousand waves of people’s victories, some helpless on their knees, some wander aimlessly throughout their days.

For now it’s quiet as I walk around over the hill into the East. They drink the coffee sharing what went down. I shake my head and stir my tea, but in a couple days they’ll open up the gates and the streets will flood with a thousand wave of people’s victories, some helpless on their knees, some wander aimlessly throughout their days.

In a couple days they’ll open up the gates and the streets will flood with a thousand waves of people’s victories, some helpless on their knees, some wander aimlessly throughout their days.

So good.

How can you paint a picture of a person who is already a work of art? Who’ll be the last and surely not the first one. Couldn’t choose a perfect place to start. I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

If she were dollars she would be a billion. If she were water she would fill the sea. If she were taller she could crush a building. If she were honey I would be her bee.

I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me too.

So all the black and white that filled these pages have run together into so much gray. Even though I don’t know how to read it, I just can’t seem to put this book away cuz I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her is he missed me too. Cuz I’ve seen greener pastures. I’ve been to the moon. I wish I’d never asked her if she missed me, missed me, missed me …

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #329: Al Miller and Lauren Wayne

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio show number 329, airing for the first time on Sunday, January 7, 2018. Today’s guests are Al Miller, artistic director of The Theater Project in Brunswick, and Lauren Wayne, general manager and talent buyer for Crobo, the organization that owns the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                             Al Miller is the artistic director of The Theater Project, a nonprofit community-based theater in Brunswick. He also teaches theater workshops in various states as well as Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Thanks for coming in today.

Al Miller:                                  You’re welcome. Thanks for asking me.

Lisa Belisle:                             We got your name from Dr. Emily Isaacson who apparently really enjoyed her time with you at The Theater Project in Brunswick. I think it was a little while ago now.

Al Miller:                                  It was. Yeah, it was.

Lisa Belisle:                             Apparently, you’ve been doing this work for a little while?

Al Miller:                                  A long time. A long time.

Lisa Belisle:                             How did you start doing this?

Al Miller:                                  I came to Maine from the Middle East, and I took part of the year to write The Great American Novel, which was awful. Then I needed work, and I saw … Actually, my then wife saw an advertisement in the paper for a summer director for the Portland Children’s Theater. I’d done some directing with kids in the Middle East, so I applied and got the job. We toured the show, and I thought this is really fun and that was the beginning. Then, I started a children’s theater in Brunswick.

I had a Volkswagen camping van that we had used in the Middle East that we brought back, and this was before the days of seat belts. When we did a show, I’d cram the actors in there. The actors were junior high and high school kids, and we toured to different venues. Eventually, we got a real van and toured around the state with shows for schools, and families, and community groups. That’s the beginning.

Lisa Belisle:                             It sounds like things are actually even more interesting because you got your bachelor’s degree from Williams College and your master’s degree from the University of Michigan, and somehow you ended up in Lebanon. Those things don’t necessarily follow.

Al Miller:                                  No. It’s a long story. The short version.

Lisa Belisle:                             Short version, yes.

Al Miller:                                  I was at Harvard summer school due to a severe deficiency in freshman physics at Williams College, which took a long time to resolve. It was the summer of 1958 when there was a civil war in Lebanon. Eisenhower sent in the marines. There’s a coup d’état in Iraq, and there was a civil war in Jordan. King Hussein pretty much chased the Palestinians out or some of them. I got really interested in the Middle East. I had met a Saudi Arab who became a good friend and was going to Amherst, and I was going to Williams.

Our friendship continued and by the end of the summer, I wanted to go to the Middle East. I asked my friend Sahib, “How do I get to the Middle East?” He said, “Teach.” I’d never thought of teaching, nor surely had my college professors ever thought of my teaching. I asked him where. He said, “Apply to the school where I went before I came to Amherst,” which was an old Protestant mission school with a mainly Lebanese board of trustees for kids from Lebanon, and the Middle East, and a few from Europe. I applied and just kept applying, and I think they hired me so that I’d stopped writing them. That’s how I got it. Right after graduating from Williams, I had a job for two months that summer and then left.

Lisa Belisle:                             How does one get from physics, to teaching, to being an artistic director in theater? It sounds like maybe there was another path that you might have been going down.

Al Miller:                                  A friend, when I was in school freshman and sophomore year, you had to take a science. The only science I’d ever liked was biology of having taking it. I thought, “Well, I shouldn’t take it again,” so I asked a friend. Actually, a friend from the freshman football team because we had to be there early and I said, “What am I going to do? What will I take? What will I take?” He said, “Oh, take freshman physics. It’s nothing. It’s a breeze.” I took it and it became sophomore physics, and junior physics, and then finally I think from exhaustion, the physics prof passed me, let me go.

Lisa Belisle:                             This sounds like a pattern. The wearing down of people, eventually it just-

Al Miller:                                  Yeah, well, maybe it is. Maybe it is, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was your field of study initially?

Al Miller:                                  English. I hesitate because of the word study. As an undergrad, I was a typical, not very serious undergrad. When I went to graduate school, that’s when I should have gone to college. That’s when I was really interested. I studied English. It’s like the narrator of The Great Gatsby that so I was qualified to do nothing or anything. I went out to teach English to mostly Europe high school kids.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was your master’s degree in?

Al Miller:                                  English. Then, I was interested. It still didn’t have much to do with … Then, I taught high school for a couple of years in the states. Then, I got the urge to go back to the Middle East and they were looking for someone to head the English Department and in other program at the same school, so back I went.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is there naturally a connection between drama and English? I mean, I think of Shakespeare obviously but …

Al Miller:                                  That way. What was my connection?

Lisa Belisle:                             I guess so, yeah.

Al Miller:                                  I never did theater when I was in school, not in elementary, high school, college, never. When I got to the Middle East, when I went back actually, there was a repertory theater in Lebanon who have worked with English speaking people, English speaking Lebanese, Brits, Americans. Every year, they did a show for kids and families. Then, they did a couple of other series shows of Shakespeare and whatever. The head of the Phys Ed Department of the school when I went back was a guy who had been the US National Trampoline Champion. He also juggled and I juggled. He taught me how to do the trampoline and then we used to juggle some and people found out.

When they wanted to cast the Emperor’s New Clothes, when they want to cast the two jesters, they thought, “Let’s get these two guys because they can roll around and juggle.” We did it and I loved it. I thought, “This is really fun,” which got me to get a theater program going at the school. Later that year, they did Waiting for Godot and asked me to do that, and I did that, and I’m not sure I understood it because I didn’t study it in college but I loved it. I think by the time I’d finished, we did a run of maybe three weeks at a little theater in town, and I think by the time I’d finished that, I decided I’m going to do something with this. I kept working with kids, and then when I came back here started something. Two years ago, did Waiting for Godot again.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you understand it better now?

Al Miller:                                  I do. I do.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s interesting that you had zero background. I mean, a lot of people in the theater it’s from like they’re born, and they began breathing theater. You had zero background and just almost on a whim, they cast you in this production. Then all of a sudden, it just kind of opened up something inside.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is that something that you see yourself with children these days?

Al Miller:                                  Do I see it in kids?

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah. Is that an experience that’s common in children?

Al Miller:                                  I don’t know. I think what I infer from it is if we’re open, we’ll find what we want to do. I never would have guessed that I do theater, nor before that I never would have guessed that I would teach. Once I decided to teach as a way to get to the Middle East, I wouldn’t have said that I’m going to be crazy about it. Then, I ended up loving teaching. I would say if there’s some force that some mystical way leads us where we ought to be, that it was successful with me. I think I’m doing … I have a dream job. I love what I do. I get to teach. I get to write. I get to direct. I clowned for a while. I act once in a while, and I work with people all the time. Where that come from? I sort of stumbled into it but it’s all worked.

Lisa Belisle:                             What about your family? Does your family have any background in the arts?

Al Miller:                                  No. My mother did something with children’s theater. She helped start a theater in my hometown. I think I … No, I don’t think. I vaguely remember this. I tried out for something when I was about nine or 10 years old. I remember my mother saying to me, she worked with another woman running this little theater, the junior theater I think it was called. Her saying to me at home that she couldn’t put me in the play because she worked at the theater but that I was very good. I said, “Oh thanks,” and never took another step toward theater until stumbling into it with juggling.

Lisa Belisle:                             Obviously, people are very attached to their childhood experiences in the arts, music, theater because we’ve had multiple people who have said to us, “Oh, I worked with Al Miller at The Theater Project. I still remember …” and they can give very exact details about their experiences.

Al Miller:                                  Oh, really?

Lisa Belisle:                             There are lots of things in childhood that we do that we don’t remember at all, or if we remember them, they certainly don’t have positive connotations. What is it about what you are offering that you think has such appeal?

Al Miller:                                  I think theater is fun. I think when we get older, it scares us. “Oh, I could never do that.” I hear that all the time. “Oh, I could never get up there and do that.” Kids are more experimental. It’s fun. They learn responsibility because in the end they’re doing it whether I’m the director or somebody else says, “We’re not doing it.” “They’re out there, there you go. Go get them.” There are different ways to communicate in theater. Sometimes, I found especially in work in schools, the teachers will say, “Billy has never spoken once in class, and here he is doing this amazing work and this project that involves theater.”

Theater isn’t the only way. Music is another way. Dance is another way. The outdoors is another way. Kids, we do know that not all kids learn the same way. We can also remember when we were kids, we did the stuff that was fun. What are you doing? You go out and play. Often, we’re doing theater kind of play to make up stories whether it’s cops and robbers, or prince and princess, or whatever it is. That’s in us. Plus, I think people love storytelling. I don’t think they would say that necessarily, but I still find when I’m storytelling that there’s sort of this hubbub at the beginning and then it turns into, if it’s a good story, it turns into listening and really being involved. I don’t think we don’t know that. Kids don’t know that necessarily.

Now, they do all these quick change things, the electronic stuff. I’m an old guy. I get it, but I don’t do it like a kid. I ask my grandchildren, “How do you do this?” They’ll also sit down and listen to a story. If they bite, like if they want to come in and try something at the theater, shy, or obeying, or interested or, “Yeah, I just want to try this. I’ve done all these other things at school.” Usually, they’ll get involved. They like it, and it’s them. Did that make sense? That it’s their expressing their understanding of this part, their understanding of the play.

I’ve done Shakespeare with high school kids at The Theater Project, not in schools. One, they learn the lines in one twentieth of the time it would take me to learn the lines. Two, if I work through it with them, which I do, “What do you say in there? What does that mean? Okay, we got to figure that out. Right, here’s the deal. Nobody says anything that you don’t understand. We stop. We figure it out.” Then, they do a performance that’s just live. Shakespeare probably would have liked it, and I’ve had older people say, “You know that’s the first time I understood Shakespeare when I saw that.” That’s it. For me, that’s a kick. I also believe in it because there’s a kid growing.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is it interesting to you that in this day and age where you can access almost anything at almost any time visually? You go on YouTube or you can listen to an audio book, or people have their own live channels where they’re doing … I don’t know, basically like I’m going to go shopping for my kids at Walmart and I’m going to put it up on YouTube, and it’s going to get like 1.4 million views. All of that, and we still want to see Harry Potter one and two on stage in London. We still want to go to New York and see live shows that sell out. I mean, we have access to anything we want, and we still want to see live theater. What do you think of that?

Al Miller:                                  There are three other people in this room. One behind me, and one to the side there, and you in front of me. I’d much rather talk to each one of you than to somehow see it screened and not, “Who is this person? Who is this person? Who is that person? What’s going on?” That’s what’s interesting. I think what gets us about theater, gets me on both sides of the lights. What gets us about theater is I’m watching human beings up there if I’m in the audience. If they slip up, there it is. It’s not, “Okay, let’s erase that in front.” If they slip up but they’re trying, I’m pulling for them so hard and usually they pull it off.

I remember seeing a show. It was actually at the Shaw Festival in Canada. A female character came down. The audience was on both sides and in the back. She came down between the audiences on the side and there was a fan on the stage that was a part of the set. She had on a boa in which she got closed to the fan, the boa started to blow across her face and she kept putting it down, and would blow again, and would blow right across her mouth and nose. It was sort of tickling her nose. You could see her fighting laughter. Finally, she had to give in and she started to laugh. Then, she pulled herself together and went on with the show. The whole audience applauded, like they’d seen this, “Look at what she did. We love that. We love that.” I think that’s part of what it is. I think we love a polished production and you mentioned New York.

I don’t tell anybody to go out there and mess up, but if you do, you’re still out there. “Go, somebody will pick you up, go,” which is also a nice thing in working with people in the show to develop an ensemble feeling, so that everybody is looking after everybody else. Nobody is going to say, “What you do that for?” They’re going to be picking each other up. That’s a good thing. That’s a good thing to learn.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah. I think that’s the opposite side of what people have gotten concerned about with children, which is that this is kind of the kids on stage culture these days that they’re also used to having their photos taken. They’re also used to being on video and selfies. In real life, if you’re actually going to do drama, then it’s not just about you. You actually have to do things differently and learn different skills.

Al Miller:                                  Right.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you think that one of the things that adults have difficulty with as they get older is the fact that we are expected to be perfect as we age? We’re supposed to be really good at whatever it is that we’re now doing, and so now we can’t do drama because then we might need to fail?

Al Miller:                                  I’m old enough to no longer need to be perfect, so that’s good.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’m almost there too, so that’s a good thing.

Al Miller:                                  Oh, no you’re not, no, no.

Lisa Belisle:                             Not quite yet?

Al Miller:                                  No, no.

Lisa Belisle:                             Okay. All right.

Al Miller:                                  Maybe. Maybe, and I think kids get that too because I think there’s a lot of pressure on kids now. You’re going to do this, and you’re going to do that. Then, you’re going to do this. Where’s the playtime? Where that, “Okay, let me know when you’re done.” It’s a different world, but I still have conversations with … not people who were as old as I am, but people who are anywhere between 55 and 80 maybe, who say, “When I was growing up, you left the house in the morning. If you had had to be at home for lunch, then either your mom was hollering at the door or you got yourself home because you knew you’d be in trouble if you didn’t get home when you’re supposed to be there for lunch. Then you took off again when you didn’t have school. After school, you did what you did. You got home on time.” There wasn’t that nervousness.

Also, there wasn’t the kind of programming, a lot of which there is now. It’s not … not everybody does it. You got ballet on this day, and you’ve got theater class on this day, and then you’re studying for the college boards on this day, and then … I think the freedom makes the difference. If you have more freedom when you’re young, you still grow out of it. You at least remember it. Then when we’re adults, there’s a lot of pressure. We only take this ride once as far as we know. It’s kind of a sad thing if you get to be 65, 70, 75, and say, “Oh, I wish I had …” There’s always some of that, but for the bulk of your life, “I wish I had done …” That’s bad. Change whenever you can. Are you listening out there?

Lisa Belisle:                             I hope so. I’m not quite as old as the age range you just said, but I remember that my mother would send my younger brothers and I, and sisters and I, we would all go out into the neighborhood. The idea was that you come home when the street lights go on, so you could stay out as long as it was dark.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah. There you go.

Lisa Belisle:                             It was almost to the place where you could not see and the street lights came, and then on, and you all went home. I mean, that’s … My kids don’t really do that. I mean, they are older now, but I think there is something lost with all the scheduling of stuff that every hour seems to need to be accounted for.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah. I remember with our kids, who are all grown up. I think three of them are older than I am now. With our kids, especially when they were teenagers, young teenagers, wanted to hang around the house, and their mom or I say, “Get out of the house. Go, go, do something. Go.” “I just want to …” “Go, get out.” Then they’d go out and they’d find something to do and that would be good.

Lisa Belisle:                             Now, we don’t have them in the house enough. Some of us, they’re so busy doing other things elsewhere.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s kind of we’ve gone a little too far in the other direction.

Al Miller:                                  Yes. Maybe, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             I mean, it’s not all bad. For example, The Theater Project has been around for how many years?

Al Miller:                                  Oh, it’s going on at 45, 46. Yeah, a long time.

Lisa Belisle:                             That’s a nice thing that has evolved and has become available for kids in Maine. It wasn’t at one time available. We actually have arts organizations where kids can reap benefit.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah. I think it’s good. We have a good open attitude toward kids.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you ever get children who come in because their parents think that this is a good idea for them, rather than them thinking that it’s a good idea for themselves?

Al Miller:                                  Yeah, not very often, but yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             How do you deal with that?

Al Miller:                                  If I sense that and the kid is old enough, I have to say, “Did you want to do this? Really?” “Ah, no. My mother told me I …” “How’s it going?” “It’s going all right.” “Okay, let me know.” Then, if a kid doesn’t want to do it, talk to the parents and say, “You know, Johnny didn’t really want to do this. We’d love to have him but not if he didn’t want to do it.” Usually, if they come in under pressure, they end up liking it but sometimes not.

Lisa Belisle:                             Then what happens? Do they quit or do they find another role within what you’re doing?

Al Miller:                                  If they don’t like it?

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah.

Al Miller:                                  If they don’t like it, one of us with whoever is teaching the class or directing the show would say, “If you’re going to do this, you need to be willing to do these things. These are the things we do. If you don’t want to do those, maybe you don’t want to be here. I’d love to have you here but decide if you want to be here or not.” The language varies depending on the age of the kid, or if they’re really on the younger end of the spectrum, speak to the parents and say, “Does Billy really want to do this or Betty?”

Lisa Belisle:                             Are you sometimes able to find like some kids don’t want to be on stage but they don’t mind painting sets? They don’t mind being behind the scenes, or you sometimes able to-

Al Miller:                                  Sometimes because of the nature of the building we work in, there isn’t a lot of set painting and that sort of stuff that we do. If the kid really wanted to learn how to do the lights, we try to arrange that or help. “Do you want to help with the production?” “Yeah.” “Okay. Then, we’ll find something. You can help the stage manager. You can help with the costumes and see how you like that. If you want to just get out here, then probably that’s what you ought to do, and then if you like you want to come back later, come back.”

Lisa Belisle:                             I like it. You’re giving them the chance to make a decision about what really should be play.

Al Miller:                                  Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             They do call it a play.

Al Miller:                                  Yes, exactly. I remember a mother saying, “Yeah, she will,” growling.

Lisa Belisle:                             I appreciate you’re taking the time to come in today and the work that you’ve done. Clearly making a huge imprint on children around the State of Maine. I’ve been speaking with Al Miller who is the artistic director of The Theater Project, a nonprofit community-based theater in Brunswick. He also teaches theater workshops in various states as well as Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Keep up the good work.

Al Miller:                                  Thank you very much.

Lisa Belisle:                             Have fun.

Al Miller:                                  Thanks. I will.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street, in Portland’s Old Port where everybody is seen as a work of art, and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             Lauren Wayne is general manager and talent buyer for Crobo, the company that owns and operates the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall. They are also the exclusive live concert promoters for the new outdoor music venue at Thompson’s Point. Thanks for coming in today.

Lauren Wayne:                     Thanks for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             You really are very busy individual and it just continues to expand from what I can see.

Lauren Wayne:                     It has. We’ve been pretty fortunate over the last seven years since we open the State to continuously expand. It’s been pretty exciting for us.

Lisa Belisle:                             I remember the State as being somewhat of a sketchy-

Lauren Wayne:                     Oh, yeah. It was pretty sketchy. It shut down I think in the ’90s after it was a porn theater. I mean, if you consider that sketchy. Some people just think that’s normal.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think back in the ’90s, it still was a little sketchy, maybe it’s normalized now.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. It shut down. They reopened it as a nonprofit, the people who owned it and operated it. They tried to do that for a few years and it just failed. I came on board when what was then known as [inaudible 00:31:05] Company, which is now kind of morphed over the years into Live Nation as nationally known. We’re the exclusive promoters of the State but when I was there, we never owned or operate it. There was an owner. There was a renter, and then we rented it from the renter. There were three people who were kind of involved in the theater who weren’t really dumping any money into it. We did concerts there off and on for a few years, and then the city shut it down in 2006 because it was in extreme disrepair. I changed jobs. I’m going off here sorry. You’re not even asking me questions.

Lisa Belisle:                             No, you’re still answering the same one. It’s a good answer.

Lauren Wayne:                     Okay, good. I changed jobs and I came on with the company now with whom I’m … with who I’m with, whatever. I’ll just leave that dangling out there. They signed the lease in 2010, got me on board. Then we renovated it after the landlord actually had dumped a lot of money into it. I think all in all, it was a $1.4 million renovation.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s really become kind of a focal point for Congress Street.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. It’s going to become even more a focal point when we finally get our new marquee up, to Portland for the scaff and the plywood. That’s been up for the last couple of weeks. It really has. I think it was a really great time for us to come in music-wise and with the growth of the city, the way that it started and the way that it’s continuing to do that. It’s been pretty exciting to kind of have your hand in that, and watch it grow, and be a part of it. We do about 90 on average concerts a year there, not including what we’re doing down the street at our club. It’s busy. It’s a good focal point and it’s nice. To see like the growth and the renovation of the building and the street, beyond High Street has been pretty awesome since we opened.

Lisa Belisle:                             It seems like whenever somebody starts paying attention to a building or a venue of some sort, that other people around it, it almost gives them inspiration to do the same thing?

Lauren Wayne:                     It does. It really does. Since we’ve been there, we’ve had a bunch of restaurants that have opened up on that block. There’s been bars. There’s the Jewel Box. Blue’s been there a while. It’s been really cool because that whole block was in relatively pretty bad disrepair. Now, it’s like one of my favorite places to be?

Lisa Belisle:                             How did you come to be doing the work that you do?

Lauren Wayne:                     It’s a good question. I did not go to school for it. I had no experience. I just really love music. I went to school for history and journalism, and I don’t use any of it. Just kidding, I use journalism a little bit. I just kind of met somebody when I was hanging out at the [inaudible 00:33:48], back in the day. He knew a guy and he introduced me. This person happened to be [inaudible 00:33:54] who was in with the [inaudible 00:33:56] Company and he was looking for a marketing coordinator, and he hired me. That’s how I got into it. It’s really all who you know.

Lisa Belisle:                             I do think that’s an important point especially given what you are currently doing.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah, which was working at AAA and FedEx.

Lisa Belisle:                             Wait. That’s very interesting that you would kind of start off in a fairly mainstream corporate structure, and then by some I guess luck of association, you found your way into something that really fit you very well.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. It wasn’t what I was doing with FedEx and AAA. I was not … I was working obviously for huge corporations, but I was packing planes and being a dispatcher. When my friends and I moved to Portland, it was on a whim. We were from Sedona, Arizona. We came out. We visited. We fell in love. We signed a lease a week later. I knew I didn’t … I went to a relatively conservative yet I guess … Whatever, I’m not going to say the name. I went to a relatively conservative college, and so most of my friends at a college went right for it. They got the financial analyst jobs, and they became lawyers, and they went to work for big corporations and start to have families. I knew that just wasn’t what I wanted right away, and I knew I wanted to wait for something that really felt right. I’m really glad I did because it really paid off.

Lisa Belisle:                             How did you end up at a conservative college in the first place?

Lauren Wayne:                     It was kind of liberal but not really. It’s in the south, in Virginia and I knew that I want to go back to Virginia. I was born there and a lot of my mom’s family is there for history. I’m a big Civil War buff, and I thought I was going to go either be a historian or a television broadcast journalist, but while I was in school I realized when you’re a broadcast journalist, you cannot have opinions on the air. You need to be relatively neutral, and that was very, very hard for me so I had gone down the road long enough where I finished the degree and then I was concentrating now more on the history. Then, when I got to college I was like, “What the … I don’t know,” and so I just moved out west and just kind of figure out some stuff, had fun, did a lot of hiking and stuff.

Lisa Belisle:                             So that was actually a pretty magical place?

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. I didn’t hit there first. I landed in Albuquerque. I lived there for two and a half years and I was a recycling coordinator. I would go buy big-box stores, cardboard bales, and I would negotiate the price for cardboard bales at places like Target, and Walmart, and the big-box stores. Then, my brother at that time lived in Santa Fe. He moved to Sedona. He has ties and [inaudible 00:36:43] for college to start a garbage and recycling company. I moved there in 1998 I think or 1999, and I was his recycling driver. I would drive the big truck and sort recycling, and run into big gates when it was icy and take down some trees with the big box trailer.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s not the magic of Sedona that caused you to reinvent yourself somehow?

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah, it wasn’t. The magic wasn’t helping that truck. No, but it’s definitely a magical place, and I try to get back there every year. He and his wife still live there, so we go back for about two weeks every year if we can.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was music for you when you were younger? What did you sing? Did you play instruments?

Lauren Wayne:                     No, I did. I play the piano. I started late. My parents never pressured me in an instrument. Then when I was 13, I just decided that I wanted to play the piano and I’m really glad I did it. I practiced for three years, and I think started at that time where I was interested and stayed with it and was pretty okay at it. Then, that kind of just tailored or tickered off. My mom’s family is a huge music family, so we would go to like a beach vacation every other year starting when I was maybe eight or nine. My uncles, my mom has four brothers and a sister, and all of the uncles are musically inclined. They brought up the guitars, and we’d sing Crosby, Stills and Nash. That’s really what got me started.

Then, I’ve just really always, this sounds so cliche but for me it’s like been a huge part of my life. I mean, it can set your emotions. It can change your mood. One of my favorite things to pick me up if I’m feeling down, is just to like get in the car and drive with the windows down and like your favorite songs. It’s just … It’s magical really, and I knew I wanted to do something with it. I just didn’t know what it was, but it was not going to be on stage. That, I’ll tell you that. This is already hard enough.

Lisa Belisle:                             Why not on stage?

Lauren Wayne:                     I’m not really into that. It’s not for me, like I don’t really getting up in front of people.

Lisa Belisle:                             So how would you been a broadcast journalist?

Lauren Wayne:                     Well, on TV, it’s a different thing. If you don’t see them, they don’t exists, but on stage, it’s a totally different thing. It’s a hard, hard life. It’s a really hard life. I always knew that was not for me, but I never actually knew that there was a whole another side of it. A lot of people who I worked with now, and who were with the company or with my parent companies, they grew up in that and they knew right out at college, or they’re doing this in college. They’re hanging up posters for shows, and they were promoters. I just … I never knew that there was that side of business. I just never thought about it. Then when I found out that there’s this whole other side of the music industry, I knew that was for me.

Lisa Belisle:                             What is it about that side of the music industry that you find so appealing?

Lauren Wayne:                     I think for me, it was figuring out that you could have a part of putting on a show because I always love to go into concerts and I still do. It’s harder to get to ones that we’re not doing right now, but that when you’re at a show, how much you change as either like … If they’re working, or you’re there enjoying the show, or you’re on stage, or you’re a guitar tech, or you’re a promoter, it’s just this feeling of like connection and being part of a tiny community within a community. I was like, “I’m really kind of that’s cool to be a part of that. It’s cool to help put it on,” and then it’s like really cool when you’re there and kind of looking around, I mean like, “Oh my God, I had a totally a big part of making this happen for everybody,” and that’s really cool. It’s a nice feeling.

Lisa Belisle:                             What are some of the differences that you found between putting together a show lineup for the State for example in Thompson’s Point?

Lauren Wayne:                     There’s so many different things about it. The one thing that I feel really grateful for is that I’ve been on the ground floor of all three venues that we own and operate, and so you’re pretty much directing what happens and that’s a big thing for me. The State is totally different. It’s four walls, the infrastructures there. It’s a building. You’re not bringing in sound and lights every show. In terms of the booking, it’s not too, too much different. It’s really kind of what we do.

We have certain genres that we are more comfortable, what we call a talent buy for. It’s just the money is much larger at Thompson’s Point because the infrastructure is not there. You’re building and breaking down, and so it’s a lot more financially risky. In terms of like the lineup, you have to have a high risk tolerance for this job. You have to have a really high risk tolerance for Thompson’s Point. There are stuff that I’m not going to be taking a risk on there but fortunately, that stuff we can always bring at the theater.

I think most agents and musicians understand that. They don’t want to be put in a situation where they’re uncomfortable with under sales, and there’s only 1,000 people at a 5,000 capacity venue. That’s not going to make them feel good, and I don’t want to put them in that position. That’s another part of the job too. It’s a lot of loyalty and trust. The trust that the agent, the musician has in us as promoters to make them feel good and put on a great show, and the trust that we have in them that they’re going to come. They’re going to show up on time and they’re going to nail it for everybody; because it’s a huge responsibility when you sell either 800 tickets or 1,800 tickets at the State, or 5,000 to 7,000 at Thompson’s Point. You’ve done everything you can to the best of your ability, and the best way that you can up until the show day. Then when the musicians get on stage, you’re kind of like, “Okay please, please don’t walk off stage after three songs.”

Lisa Belisle:                             What about people like our producers, Spencer Albee who does Beatles Night every year? What? What the…

Speaker 5:                               Just check it out Lauren.

Lauren Wayne:                     I’ve heard all about it.

Lisa Belisle:                             Tell me about that relationship? That ongoing year after a year relationship with a local musician and his group that have also been really all over the United States, and maybe all over the world? We’ll say the United States.

Lauren Wayne:                     No. I mean the relationship I have with Spencer is definitely special, but it’s something that we, for lack of better word, cherish, the relationship with us and local musicians. It’s not something we get to do a lot at a venue as large as the State and especially at Thompson’s Point, but when we can, we love to do it. It’s been amazing both personally and professionally to watch Spencer do what he’s done with both his own music and with the music of the Beatles, and to be a part of this growth and all the nights is amazing. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

If I ever leave for Thanksgiving, I make sure that I fly home in time for Beatles Night. It’s that awesome, and just that feeling when you’re in the audience, it’s like the best night of the year for your local musicians either on stage or like all around you. It’s amazing sense of community, everybody is there. You’re either seeing your best friends on stage play music, or you’re surrounded by your best friends enjoying the music. It’s something that cannot be repeated. It’s awesome. Thank you.

Speaker 5:                               Thanks.

Lisa Belisle:                             This summer, Spencer also took part in a larger performance with Guster and with Ghost of Paul Revere. That’s another interesting example of a local, and national, or international talent.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yes. There will be occasions when a national artist doesn’t … We call it tour with package. When they’re touring with the package, they usually create their own experience on stage, which also means bringing their own support and opening bands. There are times when national artists ask us to put on local original acts, which is we love when we get those emails and calls. Guster because they have local ties to the community with Adam and Lauren, and being half of them from Vermont, they really get it and what like Portland is all about. They were very, very interested and wanted to create a music festival weekend, mini festival that really incorporated not only local businesses and retail, but local musicians. That was a really … I don’t know if you guys went to the other things are going on around town, but those guys were tired after that weekend. They did a lot, but that day with Spencer on stage and one of his band mates is actually one of my co-workers, McCrae Hathaway, so that was really cool for us to see him up there.

Lisa Belisle:                             It was also a fun crowd. We were there with our kids, and our kids are all older in their 20s. The youngest is 16. I don’t think she was there that night, but it was nice to be able to see other people in the community who were there for different reasons. There were some people were there because they remembered when Guster started out at Tufts, so 20 years ago or whatever it was.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah 25.

Lisa Belisle:                             25 years ago, yeah.

Lauren Wayne:                     Crazy.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah. Then, there were other people who are friends of Spencer, other people who are friends of Ghost of Paul Revere and other people … so everybody had kind of a different reason for being there but it felt very homey.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. That’s something that with the artists and with all the people involved, something that we pride ourselves on it. Any of our venues just creating, one a safe space, but a space where you feel connected and that you belong, which is something that’s really important to me and my stuff. As soon as you … Even just buy the ticket, your experience throughout the whole process, if you have questions, if you go online, if you call us on the phone and then when you give the ticket to the ticket scanner, when you walk into that venue, we want you to feel happy.

We want you to feel connected. We want you to feel … I know this is cheesy, but this is what we want. We want you to like hug your neighbor if you want to, or like do a dance. It’s very, very important to us that you have that good of a time at any of our venues. That’s really what music is all about. It brings people together, and when you’re there for those three hours, you should have like the best time of your life. We want to help you have that experience.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s an interesting thing for me now as a parent of 20-something year olds that to experience that they have the same musical taste and sometimes that I do, because it used to be my parents listened to something when they listened to their albums on vinyl. Then, I listened to my cassettes I guess because I was a little bit too young for 8-tracks; but now with iTunes, there’s so much crossover that it’s funny to know that other people like your children can like the same things you do.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. I mean I love Ninjago music because my five-year-old loves it. Just kidding, I don’t really like it but that’s what he’s listening to. Yeah, it’s cool. Obviously, streaming has just changed the way people are getting their music out, and the music business, and labels, and all that. I think it’s amazing and one of the best things. I’m not a musician now, so I don’t have to deal with licensing fees other than paying what we do at the venue, but it’s just bringing it to more people faster. It’s also, can be a con if you’re trying to keep up with the latest and greatest, but I don’t think most people are trying to do that anymore. They just want to discover something new, what they like.

I remember in terms of bringing the generations together, my parents used to have a beach party every year when we live in Georgia. They used to ship in sand. The whole driveway was filled with sand and it was like a neighborhood beach party and they played ’60s shag music and Motown. I love now ’60s shag music and Motown. I never listened to it as a kid because I’m like, “Gross, they’re dancing,” but now, it’s like Motown music is where it’s at.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is there also something about the emotions associated with the group that you’re with at the time? I mean you talked about these events with your family, with your parents, and how that has created this emotional tie to that music? Is this something that you are trying to capitalize on somewhat in music venues?

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. I mean obviously we’re for profit business and we’re not interested in losing money. Yeah, there’s something we said we … It’s not all fun and games and music, and I have to do P&L’s, and flash reports, and a lot of Excel spreadsheets. That is the downside of it, but the upside is not seeing any red on the Excel sheets. So sure, I mean in full disclosure, no we do not want to lose money, but we’re very good at what we do and what we do is good times and it’s all working out.

Lisa Belisle:                             We talked to Bill Ryan, the owner of the Red Claws about his time at Oxford playing speedway. One of the things he talked about was weather, and how that was just such a big part of every conversation because of course, their events are all outside.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yup, all outdoors, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             This must be at least some part of the conversation when it comes to Thompson’s Point?

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah, of course. It’s a huge stress but you just have to kind of let it go because what are you going to do? I mean we’re promoters, and we’ve decided to do an outdoor amphitheater. That’s all you can do. You just hope that the weather is going to be good and there are things in place that will help us if we get rained out. We have weather insurance. We subscribed to a weather forecasting service that’s tailored to wherever you are with lightning strikes, and radiuses, and all that.

I mean, an example is Alabama Shakes this year. We had a sold out show. It’s sold out in a day with 7,500 people coming and it was forecasted for storms. I literally like was looking at a computer screen the entire 48 hours leading up to the show, and on the show, and my eyes the next day were like bleeding, and ended up working out great. We started the show a bit early with the support, and the Alabama Shakes ended up doing an encore and finishing the set just when lightning struck, so then we had to evacuate the venue. Yeah, weather plays a big part of it but you can’t control the weather, so you just kind of smile and hope that the Alabama Shakes get an encore.

Lisa Belisle:                             It seems like Portland has been able to attract some pretty impressive names maybe in the last 10 years probably before that but seemed like there was a little bit of a downturn when I talked to Carol Noonan from Stone Mountain.

Lauren Wayne:                     Stone Mountain, yup.

Lisa Belisle:                             She was saying that there was a little bit of a low, where there wasn’t a lot of live music, but now even on Western Maine, she’s able to capitalize on the fact that people really are enjoying live music again.

Lauren Wayne:                     Yeah. There’s a lot to that. There’s a lot of different parts. I think a lot of it has to do with the more active live music is in a city or a market, the more stuff you’re going to be getting. I think we’ve played a big part in that just with the State Theatre being open. No band wants … Any developing band wants to come and play a small venue like Port City but then have nowhere else to play the bigger that they get. With places like Portland House of Music, and Blue, and One Longfellow, you have the ability to get these developing bands in there. Eventually get to Port City, and their goal one day is to play the State Theatre at 2,000 cap. It’s like the sweet spot in venues and put them to more activity or getting through Portland.

Agents and other musicians are taking notice, so they’re like, “Wait, that band played there. I want my band to play there.” Carol Noonan is doing awesome things out west, and there are some wineries now up north. It’s great. Cellardoor brings in these like amazing acts. It’s cool, and it’s really great to … We’re not, it’s not a competition. We know that … I mean, I know that I can’t be doing this without the smaller rooms in town, I just can’t. For me, I owe them. When somebody comes to me and it doesn’t necessarily fit in any of our fabric, in our venues say, “Hey, there’s this awesome room down the street, you want to check it out.”

Yeah, the more activity I think a city gets, or a market, it’s just going to get better, and better, and better. There was that dry spell when the State closed and it was awful. Then when we opened, even that fall in 2010, it was real hard to remind agents and musicians that, “Okay, Portland was viable market. It’s not been for four years. It’s been pretty dark, give us a chance again.” Then, that was seven years ago, and now, it’s not a lot reaching out anymore. It’s a lot of taking calls and emails about agents being proactive in getting their bands through Maine, not just Portland.

Lisa Belisle:                             What would you say your biggest challenges in this industry?

Lauren Wayne:                     One of the biggest challenges that I think we’ve done pretty well with is we’re what we consider a tertiary market. It’s a small market. When you think that Portland is only what? It’s about 65,000 people but the surrounding suburbs just 300,000, that’s small when we were doing 250 shows a year, and that’s just our venues. Then, you have all the other venues. One thing that we’ve really tried to do is these bands are making so much more money in primary and secondary markets that their ticket prices are a lot higher.

It’s really been training like the bands and the agents like, “When you’re coming to Portland, I can’t have a $100 ticket. I can’t even have $75 ticket.” It’s got to be an Elvis Costello for that high of a ticket price. We’ve kind of inched. We started out relatively inexpensive, and then you inch your way up until people are used to it, plus people are doing better than 10 years ago. The growth that the city has seen is definitely helping that. Our average ticket price now at the State is $35 dollars when it used to be 25. That’s a big challenge that we had, but it’s working out.

Another challenge is just I’ve been so grateful for my staff just putting on a show is really difficult. I do the buying and the marketing, and then basically have a lot of trust and loyalty in my staff to put the show on. They go through some really challenging times and aspects with doing a show, and they don’t get a lot of the credit, and they’re amazing. It’s 250 shows a year. That’s a lot of shows and we’re small crew. The women and men who work for us in production, and the bar, and just general staff is just … It’s amazing, so thank you guys.

You always say you can’t do it without each other, but I literally can’t. If I just booked and marketed a show and sold the tickets and then walked away, there won’t be a show. There’s all kinds of challenges, but whatever. We take them one day at a time really, and then your show is ending and then you’re on to the next show.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well, this has really been a pleasure.

Lauren Wayne:                     Oh, thanks for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             This conversation, I’ve been speaking with Lauren Wayne who is general manager and talent buyer for Crobo, the company that owns and operates the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall. Oh, thank you by the way for bringing Delta Rae in.

Lisa Belisle:                             I love Delta Rae [crosstalk 00:56:39] with my daughter.

Lauren Wayne:                     You’re welcome and thanks to Delta Rae.

Lisa Belisle:                             Yeah, great group. They are the exclusive live concert promoters for the new outdoor music venue at Thompson’s Point. I appreciate your time.

Lauren Wayne:                     Thank you.

Lisa Belisle:                             You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 329. Our guests have included Al Miller and Lauren Wayne. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview with each week show, sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you’ve heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producers are Paul Koenig and Brittany Cost. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #328: Shay Stewart-Bouley and Laura + Malcolm Gauld

Speaker 1:             You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:           This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, Show #328, airing for the first time on Sunday, December 31, 2017. Today’s guests are Shay Stewart-Bouley writer and executive director of the anti-racism organization Community Change and Laura and Malcolm Gauld, president and executive chairman of the Hyde School in Bath, and co-authors of               

Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:             Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space including Ingen Jorgenson, Brenda Serione, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:           Shay Stewart-Bouley is the executive director of Community Change, a nearly 50-year-old anti-racism organization based in Boston that organizes and educates for racial equity with a specific focus on working with white people. She is also the creator of the well-known blog “Black Girl in Maine.” Thanks for coming in today.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Thank you for having me.

Lisa Belisle:           You have actually a lot of interesting things that we could talk about.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Right!

Lisa Belisle:           I’m most interested in, I guess, first coming to Maine. You’ve been here for quite a while, 2002.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Right.

Lisa Belisle:           Why choose essentially one of the whitest states in the nation?

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       I didn’t choose this state intentionally, and I rarely talk about the reason why I moved here. I’ve been married twice. My first husband and I, when we divorced in, God knows, 1990-something, our son was still pretty young. We’ll just say that our custody arrangement at one point just required us to be in the same place. Since he had moved back here and was unwilling to move back to Chicago, I was pretty much forced to move here.

Lisa Belisle:           That’s kind of unfortunate! It’s an unfortunate way to have to come to a state.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Right, yeah, so to be completely honest, when people always ask, “How did you choose Maine?” I would have never chosen Maine on my own. It was sort of like, you’re a mother, you need to do what’s best for your children, you go where you have to go.

Lisa Belisle:           All right. Now you’re here.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       I am here!

Lisa Belisle:           It must have been an interesting journey for you.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       It was quite an interesting journey in that it really just flipped my whole life upside down in terms of everything that I was planning on doing. Prior to moving to Maine, all of my work had been in social services, primarily working with homeless people in Chicago. I was program director of a couple different homeless shelters, and that was really my focus, working with low-income homeless people. I grew up working class, so definitely had quite an affinity for how to help people.

Moving here just changed all of that! I did that for a number of years, but certain things just unfolded the longer I was here, and it was like, “Oh, okay, I guess I’m going to be doing different work now.”

Lisa Belisle:           You chose … Well, working with homeless people, that’s difficult just to start with. How did that grab you? What was your intention when you first started in that field?

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       A lot of it had to do with my own childhood. There was about a six month period when my parents were homeless. Thankfully, we met many great people along the way. I was about 10 or 11 at that time, and I never forgot those people and what that work meant to me, and just thinking about services for homeless people in this country have really deteriorated over, I would say, the past several decades, so I felt a really strong affinity to give back. It just made a lot of sense, it worked really well. Homeless shelters have really interesting hours when you’re raising children because they’re open at night time, so my first job was doing the third shift at a homeless shelter. It was work that I just had a natural fit for.

Lisa Belisle:           Most people don’t have a natural fit for working in that field.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Well, I mean, I was able to understand our clients really well, and just understand, “Well, there’s so many reasons why people become homeless, and especially people with children.” For me, it was really, again, a way to just give back. When you’re a child and you’re thinking about what do you want to be when you grow up, working with the homeless is not on that list. My daughter, who’s 12, will often ask me, “What did you want to be when you wanted to grow up?” I actually wanted to be either an actor or an attorney. I am neither of those things, though I did study theater for a number of years in Chicago, up until the point at which I moved here, when I was close to about 30. I would often take improv classes in my 20s. I’m sure it’s a really good skill to have given that I talk a lot, but I’m neither an actor nor an attorney.

Lisa Belisle:           But you have created something that’s really important, and probably the experiences that you’ve had in acting and in speaking have really contributed positively to that.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Oh yeah! I mean, I definitely would say that those experiences … I’m a person who I feel every experience that I have, it’s just a building block, it builds on top of something else that I do. Most certainly what I’ve created in terms of my work with Black Girl in Maine, which actually started off as a joke. In 2008, I, like many people, got caught up in the economic crash and started working with a life coach, and was trying to figure out, “What do I want to do with my life?” I always wanted to write, but I’m not the greatest writer. At that time, I was still doing some writing for the Portland Phoenix here, but I was really feeling hemmed in by the limitations of writing a regular column in a publication where it was like I had 600 words and I had all these things I wanted to say.

My daughter at the time was three, and working with the life coach, one of her suggestions was, “What if you start a blog?” At the time, the mommy blogging thing was really big, I had a three year old and a 16 year old, so I thought, “Great! I’ve got tons of years of parenting experience, let’s write about my kids.” Even the name of the blog is a joke because I told my then-husband, “Yeah, I should call it Black Girl in Maine.” He goes, Why don’t you call it Black Girl in Maine? I thought, “I don’t know, it sounds kind of weird to call your blog Black Girl in Maine.” But then I thought, well, that’s actually reflective of who I am, so let’s call it Black Girl in Maine!

In the earlier years, I would say 2008 to probably about 2012, I did do a lot of postings around parenting, specifically through the lens of raising black children in Maine. However, one of the things I discovered with blogging with focusing on parenting is that your children get to a certain age where you can’t really write about them. Given that I started the blog when my son was 16, he was sophomore, junior in high school at that time, he was pretty good-natured about me writing about a lot of stuff. But when he went to college, it became really clear that his stories weren’t really my stories to tell anymore, and so I started to have a shift in terms of writing more about race, especially as I started seeing things more through a racialized lens in terms of understanding how Maine operates and why it’s so white. It really was just this natural … There was no thought to it, there was no game plan. It just sort of … Where the blog is now was never part of my life plan, it just sort of happened.

Lisa Belisle:           What did you learn? Why is Maine so white? How does Maine operate? Having lived here all my life, it’s harder for me to see what somebody who’s more objective can see.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Well, in part because white Americans in general, and it’s not just Maine, operate in what I call the “silo of whiteness.” I should probably backtrack a little bit. One of my degrees, I have an undergraduate degree in African-American Studies, so I understand a lot about history as it relates to African-American people and understanding that a lot of history that’s taught in our school systems actually is pretty whitewashed.

Maine operates in what I call a silo of whiteness. There are a number of reasons that it’s not an attractive place for people of color to live. There’s the economic component. I know that one of the things that was hard for me moving here, I started graduate school when I was here, and I went to graduate school in New Hampshire, which is looking at the economic difference in terms of salaries, and thinking, “Why are the salaries so much lower here?” That’s partly why I actually have a job that’s based in Boston.

I think that just the culture itself, it’s very insular, it’s very, very much a New Englandy type of place. That’s my made-up word there, “New Englandy.” I don’t think it’s really warm and receptive to newcomers. That most certainly was my experience for many, many years.

I also think that the culture here is very polite in the sense that people don’t really ever go deep in their conversations. One of my biggest pet peeves of living here is how surface people are. Do we really care about the Patriots or the Red Sox or the weather, which is my biggest pet peeve? I hate talking about weather. Of all the things in the world that I can talk about, talking about the weather seems like a waste of time for me because guess what? I can’t change the weather! It’s funny to me because Mainers are very territorial about their weather. It’s like, well, I’ve lived in the Midwest and traveled through a good chunk of the United States. The weather is just what the weather is.

Lisa Belisle:           You are entering into a conversation with someone and they’re asking you yet again to talk about the weather or the Red Sox or the Patriots, but you’d prefer to talk about something else. How do you move in that direction?

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       It actually depends on who I’m talking to. Some people you can just kind of gauge, they’re not going to want to go deeper with you because a lot of times, people aren’t comfortable having deeper conversations. You look at where we are in this country right now, and it feels like every conversation is off-limits in the sense that people don’t like to talk about politics, they don’t want to talk about race. It’s really funny because in this moment as we’re recording this, thinking about the past couple weeks in this nation and some of the things that have been going on with the administration and then circling around race, and yet most of us in our day to day conversations that are the passing conversations, never do we actually say, “So what do you think about this whole me thing?” What are your thoughts on it?” People don’t have the language, I think, in many cases, specifically white people, to have those conversations.

A big part of it is how, I would say, white folks are socialized. I think a lot of folks, depending on the generation that they come from, probably starting from Generation X down, “Well, we shouldn’t talk about race because it’s not nice,” but the fact is, if we don’t talk about race, we allow certain attitudes and stereotypes to continue to self-perpetuate. If there’s one thing that came out of what happened in Charlottesville to me that stood out was that these were younger white people. These were not your grandfather’s generation of racists. These were younger people. How does someone in their 20s and 30s in this day and age harbor those types of views? Probably because they were raised in a family where nobody talked about race.

More importantly, if you operate in what I call that silo of whiteness, most of the people that you’re around are just like you, so you never actually have to confront any type of difference. You don’t have a vocabulary to do that. It’s sort of a fertile ground for just letting whatever grow in terms of the weeds and that starts to choke people’s humanity.

Lisa Belisle:           Why are things off-limits? Why have we gotten to this place where people are so concerned about what they say that they can’t say anything at all?

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       I think to some degree, we’ve always been that way. I think, what were the big ones that people used to never talk about? Religion, politics, money, sex. We just continued that culture, which is rather ironic to me, given that we live in the age of Facebook and people can just go online and share whatever, but in our face to face encounters, we don’t feel comfortable having those conversations.

A lot of my work, frankly, is about getting people to work through that discomfort, getting them to the point of, “If I talk about race” or we acknowledge that, oh, that is a black person or that is an Asian person, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, we should never be colorblind because being colorblind doesn’t help anything either. Really being able to feel comfortable naming things and understanding that naming something is not being against it or being racist.

I think part of it’s just the culture that we’ve all been raised in, and that if we’re not intentional and we don’t say with intention, “You know what? We’re done with that, we’re going to start talking,” it just continues.

Lisa Belisle:           Let’s start with naming. This is something that I think a lot of people struggle with. We don’t want to step wrong into a space where we say, “This is the name of a person of color,” because even that, we might get called racist for.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Well, and it’s interesting that you say that, because frankly, that is such a … It’s, again, a very white American mindset. I feel like white people, they’re more bothered about being called a racist than they are in terms of actually engaging in racist behavior. That’s hard. I mean, you’ve just got to get over that. It really is, I’m sorry, you’ve got to buck up and just get over it and realize that naming something is not racist. Racism is a system.

I use the academic definition of racism, which is power and privilege. You look at who holds power and privilege in this country, and the vast majority of power and privilege, it’s held by white people. I think that for white people, when they look at racism, they’re looking at it from an interpersonal personal perspective and not looking at the structure of racism, not looking in their own communities and going, “Gee, I’ve never really thought about it. Why are all the teachers in my community white? Why are all the police officers in my community white? What does that mean if there are families of color or folks of color in my community and all the systems and structures are made up of white people?” Because if you don’t have different people at the table, you most certainly are going to continue to perpetuate well-meaning, yet racist behaviors.

Lisa Belisle:           One of the things that we have talked about … At Maine Magazine, we’re all white.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Why are you all white? I guess I would ask that.

Lisa Belisle:           First of all, I don’t know why we’re all white. I think probably because, and I’m not the person who does the hiring, but we haven’t had a lot of people who have been … Would you prefer person of color, black? What would you …

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       I’m black.

Lisa Belisle:           You’re black, okay.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       I can’t, I don’t speak for people of color, but I’m black, and I’m black American.

Lisa Belisle:           Okay, so say black Americans. We just haven’t had that many people who are black American, for whatever reason, come to the magazine to want to work here. We all happen to be white, and yet we also would like to be inclusive and we would like to cover people who are black and of other … I’m trying to talk in a really awkward way, so you know that I’m coming from my own silo of whiteness here. I acknowledge that.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       No, I can tell. I’m looking at your body language. I can tell that given everything that you do, that this is probably like, “Wow, I’m having a moment where I’ve got to think a little bit about this,” and I can tell it’s probably not a regular conversation that you have.

Lisa Belisle:           No, it’s incredibly difficult, because I don’t want to say anything that is insulting or wrong.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Right.

Lisa Belisle:           But I really do want to engage in this conversation, because I think about trying to be inclusive, and sometimes when we’re trying to be inclusive, it ends up being more token-ism.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Right, and you definitely-

Lisa Belisle:           And that’s even worse!

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Right, and you definitely don’t want to do that. But I’ll just say the flip side of this, and just thinking about the structure of this publication. When I first moved to Maine, I spent years trying to read all the different magazines that were Maine-based, different publications and I know at one point, this publication came across my desk. I thought, “Wow, it’s glossy, it’s put together well, there are no people in it that reflect me, why the hell would I keep buying this?” Thinking about, well, if everybody who works here is white, then that impacts, to some degree, what you put out and continues that circle of never really being inclusive.

And then, thinking about well, why are there no people who are of color who work here, and probably a big part of it is when you think about how people are often hired, a lot of times it’s through friends, it’s through word of mouth. If everybody in our circles are always white, again, it becomes harder to bring on people of difference. That would probably be one reason that the publication really hasn’t shifted in terms of the racial demographics, or I would say the management would probably need to make a concerted effort and say, “You know what? We really want to be intentional about changing the demographics here, and that requires stretching a little bit in terms of…”

I’m sure there are plenty of well-qualified people of color to work at a publication. Just as a little side note, 23 years ago I worked at a magazine in Chicago, so I’ve actually worked on magazines. It was funny because at that time, even in Chicago, there weren’t that many people of color. But thinking again for me, what are our hiring practices? Do we create an environment that would feel welcoming, or do we expect the one person of color that we bring into our space to fit into our way of doing things without thinking about, is this a culture in a space that’s accepting and tolerant of all? I really hate to use the word “tolerant” because “tolerance” annoys me. We tolerate Brussels sprouts. In many cases, we don’t like them.

Lisa Belisle:           If we’re in this place where we would like to have people who are black Americans or really any other type of race and just be more inclusive, but we’re still in Maine and we’re still trying to figure out how to be intentional and reach out to people, that’s not always easy.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       No, it’s not easy, and again, that’s why I often come back to the word “intentional” because honestly, you do have to be intentional and you are going to have to stretch and you are going to have to reach in terms of, “Okay, I’m going to have to put some effort into this.” We really are going to have to think about how to do this. You’re right. Otherwise, if you expect that it’s going to change without putting in extra energy, it’s not going to change.

Lisa Belisle:           Let’s assume that we would like to be more inclusive, not only in the hiring, but also in the coverage that we have. We actually are actively trying to do this and be intentional. Do you have suggestions? How would you suggest that we go about being more inclusive?

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Well, one of the things that I would suggest, and I know there are other publications in the area that have reached out to me. I should probably mention, I am a contributor myself to the Portland Phoenix, but I know that in the past year or so, the Phoenix has really made an effort to bring on other writers of color. I think for over ten years I was the only writer of color, and now there are multiple writers of color. Even the writers themselves who are permanent, they are doing more work in terms of developing their own knowledge around anti-racism work.

I would say that’s a really big first step in terms of if an organization is committed to making that change, “Okay, maybe we need to do some work as an organization around creating an anti-racism lens through which we do our work.” In that case, I would say bring in an outside consultant, figure out, “Okay, let’s look at all of our hiring practices,” but also, let’s start with ourselves because ultimately every system is made up of people. We talk about criminal justice system or whatever. I always remind people, “But who’s in that system? Who makes the actual decisions? People.” Those are the people that you really have to affect. You have to get them to start having a shift in how they view the world.

I think once an organization makes that commitment, and it’s been fascinating to me in the past year, that in New England in general, more and more organizations that have always been predominantly white are starting to realize they do have to do that work. Typically, again, it does start with the conversations, it starts with definitely leadership taking the lead. It’s really hard to affect that kind of change from the bottom up. I think in order for it to really feel like the organization is committed, it has to come from the top down.

Lisa Belisle:           I mean, what you’re talking about, I think, is important and I know that my daughter who’s in college who’s a senior, we have conversations about this. She talks about gender. Gender is her big focus. Obviously, she’s also white, so this is just the direction that she’s gone in. Even that is really difficult. It’s really hard to affect change and help people move their lens with regard to gender.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Right.

Lisa Belisle:           We have plenty of women working at this magazine and we have plenty of women who are represented on its pages.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       But again, if you’re making that change, where is it starting from? Is it starting from the middle, is it starting from the bottom, or is the commitment starting from the top down, where everyone says, “Okay, let’s look at everything here. We’re going to look at the gender roles, look at everything in terms around gender. Where is it starting?” Really, I think, putting an intensive lens on it to say, “This is what we want to do.”

Lisa Belisle:           What I’m getting from this is it’s not an easy fix. It’s work to be done and it’s intentional.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       This is a country … Well, I mean, when you think about this historically, this is a country that has never had a major dialogue on race. This is a country that still owes a lot to Native Americans and black folks in this country given our history, and we’ve never really acknowledged that. When you actually think about the civil rights movement, I think people have this really glossy sort of, “Oh, that happened so long ago.”

Last year it was interesting for me. I did a Ted Talk, and in preparing for my Ted Talk, I spent a lot of time talking to my father who grew up under Jim Crow in the South, and realizing that the last laws that were really taken off the books with regards to Jim Crow were taken off the books less than ten years before I was born in the late 1960s. We really aren’t that far along as a nation when it comes to dealing with race because you still have then the generational effects. My father grew up having to go to segregated high schools because it was illegal for him to go to an integrated high school. He grew up drinking from that colored water fountain. Then, when you look at other factors like the education piece, the economic piece, and you realize, “Wow, there’s still people grappling with that,” but yet, we’ve never had a dialogue beyond that as a nation.

We talk about it in how we teach our kids, “Well, we had the civil rights movement,” there was MLK … Which is always fascinating to me, because most people when they think about his words, they only look at the really pretty words, the ones that make people feel good. They don’t talk about the ones where he said white progressives are really not doing their job. Then we, of course, from the MLK days, we skip to what I call the Obama days and how we instantly wanted to label that post-racial. It’s like, “Oh my God! We’ve elected our first black president! We’re so beyond race.” But I would say the events of the past year-plus are showing us clearly we didn’t go beyond race because we went from our first black president to a man who doesn’t want to engage on a deeper level around race.

All of these things to me are just indicators of how much more work we actually have to do. Again, you live in Maine. It is, to some degree, easy to avoid that work, because it’s easy to go, “Well, there are no people of color. I don’t have any work to do.” But the thing is, the work doesn’t require people of color to be involved in the process at all. The work actually requires white people to start thinking critically around whiteness and thinking about “What does it mean to be white in this country?” I mean going beyond Peggy McIntosh’s checklist of “My White Privileges,” but to really think about “What has been bestowed upon me by virtue of my skin color, and how do I create equity and equality moving forward so that we can get out of this system?”

Lisa Belisle:           Well, I’m glad that you are putting all this energy into it because I think it’s really important. Even if this is just the beginning of a dialogue that you and I are having about this, I hope people who are listening will think about themselves and also think about their own place within this larger structure that you have been describing.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       I think, and I will just … Because I give this resource to everyone and should mention she’s a colleague of mine and a collaborator. But, there is a fantastic book that any white person who hears this and is thinking, “I have no idea what this woman is talking about, I am not racist.” There’s a book by a writer by the name of Debbie Irving. The book’s called Waking Up White. Debbie is now in her 50s, yeah, Debbie’s in her 50s, but in her late 40s, she started a process of as she calls it, really waking up. She had grown up fairly wealthy, fairly privileged in New England. Never really thought about race, had done some work I think in Cambridge with communities of color, but never really felt connected.

Through a class that she ended up taking when she was in a graduate program, it really made her start to look at race critically and launched her into this whole journey of discovering herself and looking at race, but then looking more critically at the structures which uphold whiteness and racism in terms of housing and redlining in this country, and why so many people in this country live in racially segregated areas and understanding the role that the federal government played. Understanding that World War Two, what came out of World War Two was the creation of basically the white middle class. Well, why was only the white middle class created? Why was there not a black middle class created? In part because the black GIs often, when they came back to the States, were not able to take advantage of the benefits that had been promised to them in terms of being able to go to school in order to access the low interest loans. Everything that helped to create the white middle class did not create the black middle class, in part because the federal laws helped to uphold certain systems.

That’s the work I would say that white people need to do. When you understand that, it becomes easier to go a little bit deeper and to push a little bit harder and to really, as I call it, become a troublemaker.

Lisa Belisle:           All right! Well, I will read that book.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Great!

Lisa Belisle:           Yes. I’ve been speaking with Shay Stewart-Bouley, who is the executive director of Community Change, a nearly 50 year old anti-racism organization based in Boston that organizes and educates for racial equity with a specific focus on working with white people. She is also the creator of the well-known blog Black Girl in Maine. Thank you for having this conversation with me.

Shay Stewart-Bouley:       Thank you for having me!

Speaker 1:             Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:           Malcolm Gauld has been president of Hyde School, a private boarding school focused on character education, since 1998, and recently became executive chairman. Laura Gauld is now president of Hyde School, and she runs the school. Thanks for coming in today.

Laura Gauld:        Thank you.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Thanks for having us.

Lisa Belisle:           It probably goes without saying, but you are married to each other.

Laura Gauld:        Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Malcolm Gauld:                  Yes.

Laura Gauld:        And parents.

Lisa Belisle:           And parents of three children?

Laura Gauld:        Three grown.

Lisa Belisle:           Three grown children.

Laura Gauld:        Yes.

Lisa Belisle:           I’m interested in the work that you’ve been doing, really for multiple decades now with the Hyde School, because your school has become really known at least around the country, maybe around the world, for the type of education that it offers. It’s unique.

Laura Gauld:        It’s very unique. Actually the original campus which is here in Bath, Maine, was founded by Malcolm’s father, Joseph Gauld, and that was a little over 50 years ago. He basically started with a hypothesis, if you focused on character, would achievement follow? That was what he set out to test. Then later, in the mid-’70s, we realized that if you want to reach the deepest part of kids, there’s two big influencers. You have the parents and you have the peer group. We were covering the peer group, but then we had to engage the parents.

Really, I would say the two big differentials at Hyde is character development, not just poster on the wall, but real character development, and then parent involvement. Parent engagement, parent growth as the most important role models for the students.

Lisa Belisle:           How old are your children now?

Laura Gauld:        Do you know or do you want me?

Malcolm Gauld:                  I know, I think!

Laura Gauld:        Okay good, let’s test!

Malcolm Gauld:                  27, 25, and 23.

Lisa Belisle:           So as I was reading this book, The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have, which was published in 2001, written by both of you, and I was reading some older stories about, I believe, a daughter who was giving some difficulty at the age of four with potty training.

Laura Gauld:        Oh yes, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lisa Belisle:           That was a few years ago, then.

Laura Gauld:        Mm-hmm (affirmative), yes.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Many.

Laura Gauld:        She was our feisty, take no prisoners, spirited child. Not to put labels, but she tend to do that. At 27, she is still feisty, take no prisoners, spirited, but I’ve learned along the day what to take hold of and what to let go of. Because I think where that potty training story was the beginning of my issue as her mother trying to control her. The more I tried to control her, the more difficult it got. What I learned going through this parent program and learning some of these things that we talk about was focus on myself. Not try to seek her love, and just let go of any guilt that you feel and just focus on what I needed to do.

Even today, I always preface … Even when she came home, I said … You know, something was going on, and I see that she’s got to deal with something, and I was like, “Would you like any input?” She was like, “Oh, I know what you’re going to say.” It’s like, “Okay, I don’t need to say it, honey. It’s your life.” Of course, when I let go, next thing you know, she’s like, “No, I do want to hear what you have to say.”

I think the essence of our kids when they’re born, the spirit of our kids is all unique. She tested me in a way that no other human being has ever tested me in my life. Not even my own mother. This child was put on this earth to help me be a better person, and I love her dearly.

Lisa Belisle:           You weren’t entirely sure that you wanted to be a teacher. Is that right, Malcolm?

Malcolm Gauld:                  I thought I wanted to do it for a little while, a couple years, maybe. I started out in the late ’70s and I was, oh, I don’t know, going to go to law school or something like that. Then I think what happens to a lot of us teachers is I got hooked on it after a while. I did spend some time in the business world in my late 20s, but found that working with kids, I’m not looking at my watch, I’m not wondering what time it is. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in it, and so that’s what I’ve been doing now for 40 years.

Lisa Belisle:           You started out at Hyde School also.

Malcolm Gauld:                  I went to Hyde School.

Lisa Belisle:           You went to Hyde School before you went on to Bowdoin and then Harvard.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Yes. The joke in our family is Joe Gauld had to start a school so his son would have a place to go. I went there for four years myself and had a huge impact on me. I think many things are different today about the school, but the core is still the same. That is the focus on character development and unique purpose in life. Those two things together. Character is often viewed … It’s talked about a lot today in America, but it’s talked about I think as an end in itself, whereas we believe that it is the key to your destiny, and we need to develop our character if we’re going to be the special, unique person we were meant to be. I think that’s what we’re trying to do.

I mean, the whole time I’ve been an educator, for 40 years, I’ve heard about this thing called education reform, okay? I even remember my parents talking about it when I was a little kid. It makes you wonder, when does this thing actually kick in? When do we actually do this thing called reform? What we believe is that there’s a fundamental flaw in our schooling system in our country, and that flaw, we believe, is we care more about what they can do than about who they are, and they know it. I’m talking about the kids in America. We’re focused on what they can do. We’re not focused on who they are.

What we try to do at Hyde, I think what we were trying to do then and what we’re trying to do now is focus on who you are.

Laura Gauld:        Right, and I think what we’ve found is if you get kids to focus on what they can control. There’s really only three things: their attitude, how much effort they put in, and their character. Most kids are going to do pretty well.

Malcolm Gauld:                  They’re going to also achieve.

Laura Gauld:        They’re going to have achievement, and you know, achievement’s important. We don’t want our kids sitting on the couch and not showing up for life. But the overemphasis on achievement, and of course the biggest change I’ve seen is the parent involvement, the parent enmeshment, the parent desperately needing friendship with our kids.

You think on when we were raised, my stepfather had no interest in a relationship with me. He had his own friends. He didn’t want … He no more cared about whether or not we were having a conversation. He was raising me, and thank goodness. And yet, with our own kids, I got offtrack because I wanted a relationship with them. Then I see even more today.

The biggest change is how to help the parents. How to help the adults in this culture get back to … Giving them the help that they need. I also think we have a culture too, where unless you have a huge problem, you don’t ask for help. You’ve got to figure it out. Sometimes the people who really have the big problems, they sometimes get liberated because they get to ask for help.

Lisa Belisle:           You’ve done a series of workshops called Biggest Job, and they’re all about parenting. One of the things that I was struck by was the raft experiment, where you created a raft made out of tape, I guess, on the floor, and then you asked someone to step on the raft and try to keep the raft balanced as if it were really in the water, and then you successively added more people to that raft as though they were part of a family, and asked people to observe what the dynamic was as you added more people to that. It really made me think about how, as a family, we can get pulled off course if we don’t understand that you can have one person on the raft who’s creating a lot of disturbance, and then you can have somebody else on the raft who’s doing most of the work to keep it balanced. That’s something that I don’t, as we become parents, we’re just trying to keep them alive at first, and then over time, sometimes we don’t even recognize that family dynamics have gotten distorted.

Laura Gauld:        Right, and what we try to say in that exercise, it’s so … You’re right to pick that out, because that is such a visual for people, because everybody can relate to some role on that raft. But the point of that exercise is you’ve got to ask yourself, “What’s at the center of our family? Is it fuzziness? Is it confusion?” Because you’re often bringing different people together from different upbringings. Is it a person? If that person’s having a good day, we’re all having a good day. Or, is it a set of principles? What are your values? What are your go-to things? What are you all about?

What we learned is anytime we had … I’m thinking any time we had an issue with our kids, it was usually we’re not aligned with our principles. It really wasn’t the kids’ behavior. That was the alarm. The other thing that raft exercise shows … We ask kids and we ask adults, “How many of you have ever been at the center of the raft?” Lots of people play that role. Then you have the person you just add, and you say to them, “You take whatever role you feel you need to take and then you get out of the way.” A lot of times, there are kids in a family who are flying under the radar. They might be smoking pot, they’re just smoking it in the basement not out on the back porch, where the rebel is smoking it. Nobody’s challenging them because they might be achieving. They might be compliant.

Then you have the primary raft balancer, which was me, it’s a lot of moms. It’s not always the mom, so I don’t want to go gender here, but a lot of times it is. It was me. I was the primary raft balancer, and in some ways, I pushed my husband out, and then I had to realize, “Wait a minute. We’re not even working as a team. I’m upset with him for not stepping up, but I’ve given him no place to step up.”

The raft is a great way for everybody to say, “All right. Where are we? Where do we want to go? What shifts do we all have to make?” Because at the end of the day, when you make a shift … You can never fix a person in your family, but when you make a shift, you create an opening.

Malcolm Gauld:                  I’d also add that one thing I’ve noticed over the last 40 years is the line of who’s responsible for what has really maybe never been as blurred as it is now. I’ll give you an example. I remember it was around this time of my senior year in high school when we were having dinner at home one night, and my mother turned to me and said, “So what are you doing about that college thing, anyway?” I outlined that I was looking at some schools, and I even picked a … I picked a strategy where I applied to four really competitive schools where I could have easily been rejected at all of them, and my mother heard my strategy and she said, “Well, that doesn’t sound like a very good strategy. You ought to have some fallbacks, and you ought to …” She threw in.

But she also said, “But it’s your life, good luck.” I don’t know many parents today that handle it that way. The parents are very engaged, right into helping write the essay and making … There is an engagement that I don’t think is right, and I think it went from being too much my problem to the parent owning way too much of it. I think that’s maybe a metaphor for a lot of what we’re seeing now, and I think that raft exercise can help sort that out too, of who’s responsible for what.

Lisa Belisle:           I think it can be hard if you are the parent who is maybe giving your child more responsibility to see that you’re a little bit alone in this when you look around and all the other parents are hiring college coaches and they’re taking their kid to 20 different schools around the country starting their sophomore year. As a parent and even as a child who’s observing this, it can be hard to stand your ground, somewhat.

Laura Gauld:        Well, you’ve, again, you think about when we had the neighborhood growing up. There were lots of norms that some of them were just … They were unspoken norms, but they were norms. If you were out of line, any parent could discipline you. You accepted that, you knew your parents would do that. I know when we raised our kids, even in Maine, small town, there were people who were like, “Don’t talk to my kid.” We tried to set the example, but there is a little bit, you’re right, this fear in the achievement race that if you let go and step back, your child may lose their place in line.

What is part of my mission in life is really more than even working at a school. It’s helping parents realize that the greatest gift you can give your kids is to let go of the achievement and focus on the character. Set an example of always reinventing yourself, always growing, always changing. Then you can sit back. It doesn’t mean the problems go away, but I feel like now we’re getting some of the payback as our grown kids, they’re no longer kids, but they’re always going to be my kids, are adults. I am so proud of them. They have issues. They have successes, they have failures. They’re not my trophy case, they belong to them. I get to now, luckily they want us in their lives, and that’s a wonderful thing.

We had to, like you say, you have to roll that dice. I’ve seen people where, kids that were pushed on the achievement track, and they got into the great schools, and they fell apart down the road of life because they never knew how to fail. They never took a risk. Again, we still try to help those people because we say, “Hey, you’re a great person and you’re failing, so what are you going to do? Pick yourself up, deal with it.” But you’re absolutely right.

We have to put the weight of our foot somewhere as a society, and you even see what’s going on today with the sexual harassment and all that. I think as a culture, maybe we are seeing, “Let’s look at this through the character lens, not the political lens.” Well, I think it’s the same thing as parenting. Let’s view our kids through the character lens, and if we do that, especially if you have high expectations, your kids are going to achieve. The great thing about their achievements is they won’t be achievements you did that they never really get the confidence from. Because, as Mal said, you paved the way. You called that school. You got them in there. You wrote the excuse. You minimized that. They’re not going to feel, they’re not going to have the great confidence that comes from that achievement if it’s not theirs.

Lisa Belisle:           One of the stories that you told, Malcolm, was about a soccer team that you were the coach of. It was a group of girls who weren’t really taking themselves seriously. They weren’t winning any games, but that wasn’t even the problem. The problem was that they weren’t showing up in their scrimmage outfits, their practice outfits. They were bringing their purses and the makeup and there was a lot of, I guess, inattention to the reason why they were on a soccer team. And so rather than preach at them, you just said, “Listen. This is a soccer team. We’re going to act like a soccer team.” It’s almost like an “act as if.” Maybe you’re not going to win, it’s completely fine.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Move the body and the mind will follow a little bit, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:           Exactly. Then by maybe the second season, they were actually asking for additional opportunities to do winter soccer, and they were actually starting to win. You weren’t browbeating them. It wasn’t about your ego and whether they won or not. It was make it possible for them to engage in the behavior that might lead them to success, which is important.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Well, and I had been an athlete and played sports in college and had taken it very seriously. It was a big part of my life, and so here I had these kids who weren’t looking at it that way. I had coached kids who were, so I had had that too. I think one of the things we do at Hyde that’s unique is we like to say that we don’t have extracurricular activities, everything’s cocurricular. Everybody does academics, everyone does athletics, everyone does performing arts and community service. We test ourselves in a wide variety of ways. You’re going to probably do some things you’re good at, you’re going to do some things you’re not good at. Everyone’s going to see you do both.

First, we don’t look at something like soccer as an add-on, as an extracurricular activity. We view it, that’s a character-building opportunity. That’s what we did there. It wasn’t … I mean, winning is fun and we like to do that, but we’re going to … Let’s be the best we can be. Let’s be the best soccer team we can be, with what we have. That first season, that meant zero wins and eight losses, and I remember we scored a goal around the fourth game and the kids were jumping up and down like we’d won the Superbowl or something.

It taught me something about, that you take the kids where they are, and I think, and build from there. I think that’s true in academics, too. I mean, one of the things that I like to do is I’ll often run a school meeting where I’ll ask the question, “How many of you have been told that you’re bright kids who don’t apply yourself?” Every hand goes up. I like to tweak them a little bit and go, “Well, sorry to tell you, but it’s not true.” They go, “What do you mean?” I go, “Some of you aren’t bright. I’m not going to name any names, but.”

That’s the way we look at it in this country and we’ve done that that way for a while. Our first priority is how bright the person is or how bright the person is not, and we generally don’t even talk about that. If someone’s not bright, we just don’t tell them. But, what we try to do is forget about that, let’s just work hard and see what happens. Let’s put the effort first, rather than how …

The thing that’s encouraging is so many people out there, like Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck and Paul Tuff are kind of coming around to that idea. As Carol Dweck says, if you praise kids for working hard, they’ll work hard in tough times and try to rise to the top. If you praise them for being bright, they will avoid challenges where they don’t look good because they want you to say that to them and they’ll think that if they don’t do well, they’re not bright. It’s encouraging, actually, to see our culture maybe coming around to that.

Lisa Belisle:           I completely agree with this idea that we are focusing so much on achievement and external things being motivators for kids, whether it’s getting into the right college, whether it’s winning the right championship, whether it’s scoring the right scores on your SATs. Specifically, I think about kids in high school athletics. You’re on this track for such a long time, and then I will often see as patients people who have, they’ve reached the end of the road, and there’s nothing external to achieve anymore. There’s a sense of emptiness, and some people even get very depressed about it. By setting people up with a certain structure when they’re younger, you’re really putting them at a disadvantage when they’re older.

Malcolm Gauld:                  An example that I’d give on that, this is maybe one of my latest harangues, maybe, is I’ve had a lifelong love of athletics. I still play, we call it geezer lacrosse and old man basketball and stuff like that. Here I am, in my 60s, and looking back over my athletic life, most of the athletics I played were on a field unsupervised by adults. There was a ball out there and you picked up teams, you settled disputes, it was not adult-controlled. And now, the athletes that I see, including our own children who were involved in this, very much travel teams, adult-controlled. The adults determine the playing time. At the end, I don’t know if they’re going to love it as much, if they don’t have that experience. Maybe we’re doing a little too much of that, not just in athletics, but in other endeavors as well.

Laura Gauld:        I think I would add to that that, like anything, whether it’s sports, whether your achievements came through music or through an academic field, at the end of the day, if you don’t have the great confidence in yourself, if you’re getting your confidence from some exterior decision, you think … You have to help people, teach them to be lifelong learners. Yeah, it’s tough. You’re no longer an elite athlete, or you’re no longer at the top of your game here. But I think we’ve always tried to encourage the adults in our communities, the parents and the teachers. We’re doing character here, so you’ve got to keep working on your unique potential. You have to keep changing.

We just had an in-service day with all of the adults, and the whole focus was challenging each other to where do you need to reinvent yourself. Where are you feeling stale? Why are we doing that? We’re doing that to be role models for the kids. In fact, you end up … Like you say, there’s always juncture points in your life. It’s hard when your kids don’t need you anymore. It’s hard when they go to their first job, when you realize, “That’s it!” Yeah, you’ve got to cry a little, and then you’ve got to pick yourself up, you’ve got to reinvent yourself, and you’ve got to move to the next thing.

I think you have a better chance of doing that if you’ve experienced the joys of some failure and some struggle, as well as … It’s wonderful to win championships and succeed, but those girls on that team, and I remember, because we were young teachers back then. Those girls on that team continue to talk about that season because they reinvented themselves as athletes. Some of them went on to play in college. Others didn’t, but they looked back on that. That was a benchmark for them.

Lisa Belisle:           There’s a … I think it was a set of nine different things that you had talked-

Laura Gauld:        Ten.

Lisa Belisle:           Ten different things … That makes more sense, I guess. Ten is a more even number … That you talked about over the course of the book. One of the biggest ones was harmony versus truth, which I think is very important, because we have gotten into this strange society of niceness and wanting everything to be good and happy. That really has put us in a weird place, I think, as a culture. It does this in families as well.

Laura Gauld:        That priority is number one. It’s truth over harmony. It’s trying to remind all of us at the end of the day, you put the weight of your foot in being truthful over the harmony. It’s, I think, the most important thing, and not just as a family, but in an organization and a school, a company. I will go back to a school, though, and a family. What happens is the kids don’t want to tell us the truth, and then as adults, we don’t want to know the truth. We say we want to know the truth, and we say, “Truth is the most important thing, this is the only thing, we’ll spank you.” We said all that.

But at the end of the day, the truth screws you up and the truth gets in the way of your plans, and then you’ve got to stop, drop, and deal, and then you’ve got to look like a circus act with the local town. We had all those things, where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, it’s blowing up in the restaurant. We wrote a book on parenting. Should we just dampen this down?” You have to then say, “Screw it.” Liberate yourself. It’s the same thing in an organization. I know almost on a daily basis when I deal with my colleagues, there’s always a thing in my head, “Okay, how honest are we going to be here? Are we going full honesty? Full frontal honesty? Or are we going to just go harmony here?”

Again, it’s not like you walk around telling everybody the truth, because that’s not a great-

Malcolm Gauld:                  It’s not truth instead of harmony.

Laura Gauld:        That’s not a good thing in an organization, always.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Just over.

Laura Gauld:        But you’re aware, at the end of the day. One of the things we have in the Hyde Organization with the adults is we are going to strive to put truth over harmony. So, if that appeals to you, if that appeals to you as an adult, we’re excited to have you here. If that’s something that you don’t really want to be a part of, that’s okay too. It’s just, this is our culture. And again, in our family, we try to say, “At the end of the day, guys, this is what we do. Even when it screws things up.”

Lisa Belisle:           Well, I look forward to your next book or books. It sounds like there’s a few in the works, so we’ll see. Whenever those are out, I’ll make sure that I have a chance to read them. Good luck with those.

Laura Gauld:        Great, thank you.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Thank you.

Lisa Belisle:           I’ve been speaking with Malcolm Gauld, who has been president of the Hyde School, a private boarding school focused on character education since 1998 and recently became executive chairman, and Laura Gauld, who is now the president of Hyde School and runs the school. They’re married with three children. Congratulations on successfully bringing them to adulthood.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Thanks!

Lisa Belisle:           Thank you for all of the hard work that you’re doing in the state of Maine and being here today.

Laura Gauld:        Great, thank you.

Malcolm Gauld:                  Thanks for having us.

Speaker 1:             Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest, and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingen Jorgenson, Brenda Serione, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, where every body is seen as a work of art and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Lisa Belisle:           You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, Show #328. Our guests have included Shay Stewart-Bouley and Malcolm and Laura Gauld. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our enewsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page.

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This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

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Transcription of Love Maine Radio #327: Rob Whitten + Todd Richardson and Russ Doucette + Teresa Simpson

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio show number 327 airing for the first time on Sunday December 24, 2017. Today we feature two sets of individuals who offer great examples of collaboration across working disciplines. Our guests are Rob Whitten of Whitten Architects, and landscape architect Todd Richardson of Richardson and Associates, and Russ Doucette of Russ Doucette Custom Home Builders, and Teresa Simpson of Midcoast Home Designs. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest, and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in it’s newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Rob Whitten is the founder of Whitten Architects a residential architecture firm based in Portland, and Todd Richardson a landscape architect, is the owner of Richardson and Associates in Saco. Thanks for coming in today.

Rob Whitten:                        Thank you.

Todd Richardson:               Thanks for having us.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Rob, you and I have had a conversation over to you before, but on the radio.

Rob Whitten:                        Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Todd, you and I have just met. You have both been working together on some interesting projects I hear.

Todd Richardson:               Yes.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      And that’s why we wanted you to come in today, is to really talk about the collaboration between the types of work that each of you are doing to create nice spaces for people. So how did you come to start working with one another.

Rob Whitten:                        You know I’ve been looking for a landscape architect that was a complement to our residential practice. Someone that really understood the sort of Maine vernacular, the Maine tradition and what made Maine have a special sense of place. And someone said, you should talk to this guy Todd. So I did, and we started collaborating on a project and … 10, 12 years ago Todd?

Todd Richardson:               Yeah, at least.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah, so when the subject was collaboration, the first person that came to mind was you. I said great, here’s a guy that can finish my sentence. Perfect, you know?

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well that is good. And I’m not sure everybody … I think people understand what an architect might do. Todd, tell us, what does a landscape architect do?

Todd Richardson:               Yeah, that’s a great question, a lot of people do not understand what we do. The joke in the profession is that we all drive green trucks, but that’s obviously not the case, although I do have a truck.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Is it green?

Todd Richardson:               It’s not green.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Oh.

Todd Richardson:               But anyway, I think the analogy that could be used is you know, Rob’s role as an architect is to design a building. My role as a landscape architect is to design a landscape. So that’s the level of work that we do, is focused on design. And we certainly develop construction drawings and have construction administration associated with what we do. But I think like an architect who would design a building, we would design a landscape, and those landscapes could be of various types. The common work that Rob and I share is focused on our residential work for sure.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah. And I like bringing Todd in as early as I can. So oftentimes a potential client will reach out to us and we’ll explain that we would like to meet them on the site they’re considering, because that means as much to us in many respects as their program of spatial needs, and it can also really define the type of house they’re looking for. And ideally, Todd can be part of that initial meeting. Because we read a landscape one way, Todd reads it another. I value his input. There’s assets and there’s liabilities to every site and every project, and so the trick is to turn those liabilities into assets if possible, and I think Todd’s really wonderful at that.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      So describe what would a liability and an asset of … I guess there’s two possibly separate things, but what would that mean?

Todd Richardson:               Yeah, I think that the dollop of optimism that Rob talks about where a constraint might be turned into an opportunity I think is really the frame that you … how you view it I guess. And so for us, getting on a site early, and I think Rob hit a point that I think is really valuable in the work that we do together, that it starts early. It’s not something where we would come in at the tail end of a project, and there would be a couple issues that the architects may be asking us to address. I think with the work that we do with Whitten Architects, it’s terrific in that the conversation starts early and it starts at the conceptual level, and often that’s paired with visiting the site together and often that’s without clients which has its benefits, both do. But I think it’s great to get on the site with Rob to talk about what we’re seeing, and what things really strike us as drivers for a particular project, what are the opportunities?

You know, constraints can be many. I think that sites are more and more challenging that can align with regulatory constraints as an example, setbacks or critical resources that obviously need to be respected. Other examples might be run-off or drainage, or steep slopes that begin to put some building blocks around where you might not choose the site to have us. But I think that we take those in light of where the real opportunities are and we gravitate the project to the place on the site where we can find the most opportunities and make the most of the project.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah, oftentimes as we approach a site … I love Google Earth because it gives us great overview, so you see it from a mile up and you see big patterns, and you see big relationships. And you can really see it in a very macro way. Thanks to doing this for a number of years, I can kind of read that landscape and that site and get a feel for it. The other thing that happens oftentimes is, Maine is over 300 years old. The good sites got picked early. And first comers get choice. So if you’re dealing with a new site today, it’s been passed over probably many times. And so whether you have to be more creative and more inventive to make that site really work for the family whose home you’re designing.

And I think that again, plays right into landscape. So it could have unstable coastal bluffs, it could have wetlands, it could have soils problems that are creating other issues. So it’s exposure could be bad. Now it’s a northwest slope, and the best slope is southeast. Okay, how we design for that? You know, how do we work with that? So with the views to the northwest I want a house that’s long and narrow so the sun’s on your back as you’re looking at the view. I mean it’s just … and again, playing with that. And I really love … because Todd will have a grade problem, and it’ll be like, oh here’s an opportunity, we can manage the grade with a series of subtle manipulations.

Whether it’s … Todd loves bringing in large native boulders and they just become part of the landscape. And it’s like they’ve always been there. One of our sites that we worked on together was a pond that was so pristine, it was a trout hatchery. And we had fairly big interventions on that site. At the end of the day, it looks like it always had been just like that. So it’s kind of fun to think about.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      So an intervention I’m assuming is something that disrupts the things-

Todd Richardson:               Dynamite.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      That’s pretty interventionous, right? So how Todd would you keep something like that pristine pond intact so that the people who are going to move into a house on that site can enjoy it, and like creatures that are using the pond already don’t stop enjoying it.

Todd Richardson:               Yeah, I think that begins with the conversations that we might have earlier on in the process where we identify it as a real asset. And then I think the extent to which one goes to preserve or conserve that I think becomes how we begin to talk not only amongst ourselves, but with a client as well. Because part of the role from the beginning moving forward, is educating our clients as to what some of those values are and beginning to paint a vision for a project that puts value in protecting the pond, or boulder, or cluster of trees which truth be told, would be easier to take down or to roll over to do that.

And I think what we’re able to do is talk at the ground level about what will make this project great. And I think that one of the things that Rob and I focus on collectively and collaboratively is, many times, is the things that you preserve and that you reveal that ultimately make the project. I mean there’s certainly some things that are brought to the project, how about a house and some landscape. But I think fundamentally it starts with some of the core things that are pivotal in the project, some existing condition that really inspires the direction for the project. And when we get excited about that and started thinking about ways to design with that, not against that, but with that, and then fold our client into the process. I think that’s where some of the magic takes place.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah, and it is fun to as I say have this overview, this Google view, the mile view, mile high view. And then to have identified perhaps some things that will influence the design of the house or the landscape. And then to have that information in hand, and then go visit the site for the first time. This is really kind of like … there’s always a revelation like, “Oh, that’s a cranberry bog, cool.” You know that means wonderful color, wonderful fruit, wonderful bird life. It also means it’s a wetland. So we understand that. But again, it can become this great asset where as perhaps an unsympathetic person could say, “Why it’s just a swamp.” But no, it’s a wonderful resource. And so we really enjoy things like that. The other thing is to try to visit the site with Todd, but also to visit it with a client so you can see the site through their eyes. You can see what they saw, why they’re buying it, what it means to them, or if there are some things that they’re particularly focused on.

And oftentimes it’s helping educate a client so you could say, “What part of the site do you really like? What’s the best part of the site for you? Is this why you bought it?” And then you say, “Well then let’s not put the house right on top of it. Let’s let it be beside the house. So it’s still the best part of the site, and the house gets to share it.” And there’s this real synergy now between the house and the landscape. And I think when that starts to work together… we’ve recently done a project in a pretty well established coastal community and there was an older home that wasn’t a good fit. It didn’t serve the family very well. It didn’t have good inside/outside living spaces, in a principally a summer recreational community. And when we all finished, I’d like to have a house that fits, it respects it’s context, it really feels like it has been there, and everybody’s enjoying the outside living there. I mean, it’s always fun when you go to a house and it’s under construction and you say, “So where did the guys have their lunch?”

They get to pick. They get to pick the room with the nice view, with the nice sun, with the nice exposure. So it’s always kind of fun. It’s very telling. You know, it’s like where does the dog lie in the sun? Okay, right there. I think that kind of information you get somehow from nature, really influences the way we make a lot of design decisions.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I remember having a conversation about the sun and how you can never really know the way that the sun is going to be in the building until you live in a place for a full year. So I mean that’s very much a inside/outside element. How do you design around something that you won’t be able to actually experience, but is clearly very important to the people who are going to live in that structure?

Todd Richardson:               Yeah I would answer that by saying, there is some ways, techniques, to understand generally what the sun might be telling us about morning light, midday light and afternoon light. I think that, Rob, I think it was you that said people are drawn to the light in the home and outside. And I think that’s important. I think it’s maybe as important or more important for people that cherish Maine and come to Maine because they really like the outdoors, many of them. So I think really understanding what is the south aspect, what’s the early morning light, and then designing kind of a reciprocity between indoor and outdoor spaces, so that their living can flow seamlessly inside and outside.

I think that’s an interesting way that Rob and I have often talked about the work that we do, and that is less about the divisions between architecture and landscape. I mean Rob’s a terrific architect, I’m a landscape architect, we have our roles and responsibilities in a project. But I think sort of eroding some of those differences and really focusing on some of the commonalities really makes a lot of sense early on in the project. So we’re thinking more holistically about a place and the qualities of the place. So the light to which you refer, I think is not an architecture conversation or a landscape conversation, it’s really born out of a conversation that says, “How do we want to collectively maximize our client’s opportunity to really relish and enjoy the sun here?” So where the entrances are, where indoor/outdoor living and eating might occur are a couple ways in which we would focus on that.

Rob Whitten:                        We really think about it from the very beginning. And we actually on every project, all our work is site specific. We show the client in the very beginning a site plan showing where the prevailing breezes are, here come the tropic storms that are going to hit here in March and November that come from the east, they’re loaded with moisture, they come from the northeast, the prevailing summer breezes are southwest. The big polar highs in the winter are coming out of the northwest, and they’re cold and they’re dry. So it’s just getting them to think that they bought a piece of nature, and now we have to design a house that works with nature. And also we love the Maine precedent, the vernacular precedent. All of Maine was off the grid until 1900 let’s say. So how they use their resources, how they use the sun, how they organize their day, how they organize their workspace, where their families lived.

There’s a lot to be learned from that. So we like that precedent. And so the house has a bigger allegiance to the sun than a road for example. I mean the sun is really fundamental. Ideally if you’re warm, dry and comfortable, and your health is good, you have a sustainable house. And the sun is a huge player in that. So we think about that a lot. I mean that’s number one for us. It’s kind of funny, here we are almost at 44 degrees north latitude, that’s a huge player. I mean that’s … and if someone coming from away, you kind of have to educate them about that. So it’s just, again, I like that process. I like having bigger forces help us make decisions. Because they’ll be right at the end of the day.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      As you’re talking about this, I’m almost getting the sense of the house on the landscape as being it’s own, I don’t want to say creature, but entity being?

Rob Whitten:                        Oh it is, absolutely.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      And more of a living thing versus like a structure.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah, oh absolutely. So you can bring nature in and … so also man has a pretty grim climate many times a year. So we have to protect you from it. But when it’s nice, it’s got to be accessible, you’ve got to get out into it. So it does have a dynamic quality, it is like an animal in a sense, it makes changes. And the other thing is you work with your building forms, you can start to create these little micro climates. So here’s this little sun pocket, here’s the barn or the garage that’s protecting you from that north wind. You just play with all those elements. And you end up as I say, with a happier, better place to live, that’s really what it amounts to.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      I know you’ve had some recent projects and some that Maine Home Design has been particularly interested in that you’ve worked on together. Tell me about one of your favorites that you’ve worked on and what that process was like for you.

Todd Richardson:               I can talk to this, Berwick Retreat, I think that for me, that’s a really great project that was meaningful from a number of perspectives I think, and I’ll talk to the collaboration as being one of those. But I think also, just an outstanding site and a terrific client, I think that was the sort of trifecta if you will there. But one of the aspects of that project that was terrific on this end, was the call that Rob placed to me early when his office was on board with the project and we began to get on board, and Rob said, “Could you come up to the office? We’re going to do this, where everyone in the office is going to participate in thinking about this project and putting some ideas out as a way to generate a departure point for the conversation and we’d like you to be a part of that.” And it was just a memorable morning or afternoon, I forget what it was, where Rob’s office really to me demonstrated a clear understanding of site and building, and the relationships between the two.

And it was an open forum for me to contribute to the work that they were doing and help sow some seeds early on in the process. So the beginning of that project was I think fundamental to the outcome of that project to be honest with you. I think it was the early days that the collaboration really began to talk about the direction and the vision of how the building and the site would become kind of synonymous with each other. And I think that worked tirelessly to every detail including materials that started on the inside and moved right to the outside, and walls that literally slid away so that the landscape would flow through the house. So I think there’s a couple exemplary outcomes that I really think were talked about not from day one, but in the early part of the process. So that was a really great one for me.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah, and it was a really significant project. But at the same time, both of us together took on … Russ Tyson works closely with me in my office and he was project architect on that. But it was a house on a lake in Maine, in western Maine. And it was a totally unsympathetic, what shall I say, uninspired vinyl clad house, and they just destroyed the landscape. And our client approached us and said, “I want to make it different,” and we stepped up and did that in terms of design of the house. But most of all, it was taunts for a mediating really of a landscape that could have been lovely once, but boy when we got there it was just run-off right to the lake, no features at all, really hostile. You couldn’t be out in that landscape because it was … particularly in the summer, because it just was bright and sunny, and you felt very exposed. And by the end, unsolicited we got … Todd’s office received an award from the Lakes Commission for doing all the right things.

Todd Richardson:               Yeah, that project was really interesting in terms of the client standing in front of the house early on and saying, “You know this just doesn’t fit. How can we make this fit?” I mean look at the context here and what we’re looking at. And I think that Rob’s office really worked hard to transform quite honestly almost a suburban character home-

Rob Whitten:                        It was, yeah.

Todd Richardson:               … It was on a beautiful lakeside into … just a tremendous lakeside cottage, and our mandate was to integrate it and make it fit. So we used a lot of native plants, we addressed some of the run-off challenges which being right on the lakes edge, to think of what was happening and how that could change. We were really excited about that, and we had the support of the client and wove together a lot of aspects of the indoor/outdoor living. So I think we … that house did a 180 overall and the landscape followed.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah exactly, so it was a complete turnaround. The other thing that as yet unacknowledged, is the collaboration we get with both the builders and the installers. And again, there’s a wonderful sense of Maine craft. We’re fortunate in that we don’t have to tell them how to do it right. Inherently I think they want to do it right. And if your budget is sufficient they can do it right. And we will be advocates for doing it right. We’re not disappointed. And I think there’s a sense of pride, and there’s a sense of continuity. The other thing that we both are fortunate, we tend to work on what I’ll call sustainable projects, because they are going to stay with this family for a long period of time.

It’s not a short cycle, it’s not a five year cycle, it’s a 30 year cycle, or it’s the next generation. So it’s really fun to plan and think that way. And it’s also fun to watch Todd’s landscapes mature, and it’s fun to watch our houses age a little bit. When we photograph them for the magazine, we don’t photograph them day one, we like to give them a year, you know, let them get seasoned, let them become assimilated, let them become part of Maine. Then there’s something special that goes on. And it’s always … again, it’s that sense of time is an important continuum here.

Todd Richardson:               I’d like to echo something that Rob said that I think is really fundamental, and that is, we’re having a conversation with two principles of two offices, but as Rob eluded to I think the notion of collaboration extends beyond Rob and I. I think both our offices fundamentally operate that way and benefit from that process. But to Rob’s point about how contractors and owners, if a team of collaborators is broader and they really understand not just the content but the intent of what the project is, I think that it serves the project really well. And I think I can speak for both of us really trying to nurture that sense of the more holistic team collaborating and I don’t know if that’s selfish or not, but I think the outcome is far better when you get people that really understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. And I think we’ve seen terrific results working with builders, and craftsmen, and suppliers, and our own staff in our offices to make that all come together. So I think that’s collaboration with a capital C I think.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah. And the sense of place can really be reinforced by the materials you use and how you use them. And I think Maine has an abundant supply of stone and wood, and accustomed to work with the products. It’s fun, it’s really fun. And I think what’s exciting for us now is the pallet has grown. There’s more and more materials to work with and is better performing, more sustainable, more durable materials to work with. I think that it’s a very exciting time quite honestly to be an architect.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      How about you Rob, do you have any particular favorite projects that you’ve worked on with Todd that you can think of as being exemplary?

Rob Whitten:                        Well it’s always the next project you know, that’s the optimism that drives us all. I do, but they’re all very, very different you know? I think it’s the seamlessness between Todd has an ability to understand the architectural intent and his responses really reinforce what we’re designing. So whether it’s Grady’s Lake, or Spurwink Retreat or a recently completed project up in Yarmouth, they fit, they belong. I think at the end, also to sort of have the owner say, “Gee, I didn’t know where you guys were going,” perhaps, we like to think we’re good communicators, we’d like to think they know where they’re going. But at the end, they’re always pleased, they’re always really pleased where we are. And the result is they do own these houses for a long period of time. They really enjoy, they really settle in, they really fit. So it’s the fit, the collaboration that’s important.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Do you think that we went through a time where we were more thinking of ourselves as protecting ourselves from the elements? Where we were building houses so it’s just sort of a protection against the storm.

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah, us and them?

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Exactly. Exactly. Because the way you’re describing it, it seems like a more natural back and forth. But I’ve lived in many houses … well actually I haven’t lived in that many of them because I can’t stand to be in that space too long. But I’ve been in industrial spaces where it’s like, “We have to put these walls here because there’s scary stuff on the outside of them, so we have to protect ourselves.”

Rob Whitten:                        Yeah, to a certain extent, if someone has an attitude like what your describing, they wouldn’t be attracted to our work. So there is a little bit of a self-selection that goes on here. But I do think the materials are better. I think we can do a better job of making you warm, dry and healthy in a house today, than we could 20 years ago, 5 years ago. Just because it’s gotten more sophisticated. I think people are thinking differently about how they live in houses. I think they are thinking about their relationship with a house, and so the main climate is an enemy, because we have better materials and better ways of designing, it’s not quite as much of an enemy. We can co-exist better today, don’t you think Todd?

Todd Richardson:               Yeah, I don’t know.

Rob Whitten:                        At least if we’ve made the right decisions, you and I have made the right decisions and it’s been carried through.

Todd Richardson:               I don’t know if this is a subjective opinion about this, but I feel that in Maine we have unique clients. And I think that at the end of the day, they’re looking for something that really brings meaning to them and their family, and connects them to place. And that’s through the terrific architecture and the way that the site works. I talked to colleagues outside of Maine, and I’m continually reminded that, “Wow that’s different, it’s different in Maine,” and I just think that the people that come to Rob and my offices are really soulful about the way that they appreciate what Maine is and what makes Maine distinctive. I think of this, that your magazine, you know this, but I think that translates into architecture and landscape architecture and the ways those two can perform together. It’s really, what’s the there there? And why are people coming to Maine and choosing to develop a property.

And a lot of things matter. I think the quality of the materials, the exposure. I think all those are significantly important. But I think at the end of the day those are contributors to that connection to the place that I think people are really longing for and yearning for when they decide to come to Maine and decide to stay in Maine. So I think that’s a fun part of what we do, is from the get-go those clients are keenly interested in some things that we’re passionate about and think we do well together.

Rob Whitten:                        The Spurwink Retreat project that Todd mentioned, there was a house on that site, and it was a big site. But we were limited to a building envelope that came with the property. Again, there’s a constraint. So it was, “How can we make the best use of this portion that we’re working in?” And our client had said that all the other houses he’d looked at, and the house he was buying, seemed to get in the way. In other words, it was an obstacle. It didn’t protect him, but it was a barrier to his being able to reach out into the landscape. And so his early charge to us was, “I want to feel like I’m connected to the landscape.” And I’d like to think that’s why the house is such a success. We had a sympathic owner, he was very clear in his wants. He’s a very good communicator. And we provided it.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well I’m fascinated by this topic, and I could really keep talking about it forever and ever, because I think there’s a lot of crossover between the way that I look at human beings and their relationships with one another in my medical practice. And the way that you’re talking about people’s relationships with the way that they live their lives, I encourage people to read more about your projects in Maine Home and Design, and hopefully I can give you guys a call if they’re feeling like they were equally soulful as homeowners, home builders. I’ve been speaking with Rob Whitten who is the founder of Whitten Architects, a residential architectural firm based in Portland, and Todd Richardson, a landscape architect, who is the owner of Richardson and Associates in Saco. Thank you so much for the work that you’re doing.

Rob Whitten:                        Thank you.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      And I appreciate the time that you have come in today.

Todd Richardson:               Thanks.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Yep. Our pleasure.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle, a lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port, where every body is seen as a work of art, and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person or online at

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Russ Doucette is the owner of Russ Doucette Custom Home Builders in Scarborough, and Teresa Simpson is the owner of Midcoast Home Designs in Wiscasset. Thanks for coming in today.

Russ Doucette:                     Thank you.

Teresa Simpson:                  Thank you for having us.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      So one I’m using Scarborough, one I’m using Wiscasset, but from what I’m understanding you actually do quite a bit of work together.

Teresa Simpson:                  Yeah, I’m lucky enough to be able to work under Mr. Doucette here. I think we collaborated a few years ago on a project in [inaudible 00:30:19] when we got to first meet.

Russ Doucette:                     Correct.

Teresa Simpson:                  It’s about three years ago?

Russ Doucette:                     Roughly three years ago. I had started off with a client and felt that it was best that they go find a true architect. And they did, and they found Teresa which was actually a Godsend for me.

Teresa Simpson:                  Thanks.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well tell me about that. So tell me what is the benefit … well first of all, I guess I should get a little bit of background from each of you for people who are listening who don’t know you, as to what each of you do as individuals.

Teresa Simpson:                  Well I, let’s see, I’ve been a home designer, let’s see, since 1988. I actually started designing homes for my family when I was actually in high school. So I put myself through college, through engineering school, and then I started my own business really in a small little town working outside of the perimeters of my family and subbing out to contractors. At some point I had actually heard of Russ Doucette Builders, but I hadn’t made it down to the Portland area. I was just working in the Midcoast Brunswick, Freeport area. And then later on as my family started to retire and contractors were getting more busy, I started advertising and then lo and behold, 20 some odd years later I get to finally meet Russ Doucette in person. And from there we’ve collaborated on quite a few projects, now that I’m more in the Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Saco area. So that’s a little bit about my background.

Russ Doucette:                     A little bit about mine, I come from a little town up north in Van Buren and moved here on the 4th of July of ’76. And this was shortly after I had graduated from the University of Presque Isle Vocational School. While I was here, I started doing carpentry work, it’s what I went to school for. As time progressed I knew that I just didn’t want to be a regular carpenter, so I was looking to start my own business. And at the time I was working for a company, Dartmouth Company in Portland and got to know the supervisor really well, became very good friends with him. And so I had an opportunity to start my business at that point and they had some projects. When I did start my business, that was back in 1981, ’80, ’81, interest rate was 22.5%. So needless to say there wasn’t too much work out there. So what was I doing starting my own business? Well, I had an opportunity and I took it. And things led to this point. Did some great projects, at some beautiful homes, some commercial work, had some slow times just like everybody else in our business, no matter what kind of business you’re in.

Three years ago I had been dealing with a draftsman in Portland. Unfortunately he had passed away unexpectedly. So I was looking for a new designer to help me along, and again, met Teresa and here we are. And we have done three or four, five homes together. We just finished one up, a fairly good sized one in Cape Elizabeth. And we are doing one right now, underway. I believe a 5000 square foot home. Things are going well.

Teresa Simpson:                  It’s a lot of fun.

Russ Doucette:                     Yes.

Teresa Simpson:                  I feel like I’m blessed to finally met him and work with him. It’s kind of a dream of mine.

Russ Doucette:                     It goes both ways.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well, talk to me about the collaboration. What is it about each of your individual skill sets and also the way that you communicate that seems to work well for you?

Teresa Simpson:                  I feel that I’ve noticed, having feedback from my clients, that I tend to listen well and I can envision what a client’s needs and wants are. And I really think that being an architect, it’s key to be able to understand what a client wants. Not necessarily to give them my design, but work with them in trying to obtain their design and facilitate it. And I’ve always noticed that the key details that Russ just said in his homes and his craftsmanship show, is exactly what I try to instill into my client’s homes. So it’s sort of we’re on the same road. And now that we get to work together, we can facilitate that a little bit better in project management for our clients.

Russ Doucette:                     For me it’s the communication between her and I is great because she doesn’t take criticism, she takes it very well. And it’s not criticism, it’s a different way of doing things. Where I have the ability to design homes and build them, in the past I haven’t had much luck dealing with architects, they kind of stay away from me, because they know that I can do it myself. But that’s not really what I wanted to do. I can. And unfortunately a lot of them have their own way of doing things, and where I’m the builder, there are different ways to do it. And I would like to collaborate with them to get the job done in a manner that the client wants, and give the client the outcome they’re looking for. With Teresa, we’ve gone around and around a few times. Where she designed things or how she, when she designs things she’s trying to build it in her mind. Well, sometimes building in your mind and the way you’re accustomed to do it might be different than what I’m accustomed to doing it and how I approach things. So we communicate very well with that, and she’s always asking, “Well how are you doing this? Can we do it different?” Et cetera. So it’s a really good balance, no question.

Teresa Simpson:                  I definitely have found that I have learned so much from him, it’s like hands on experience with Russ. From the aspects of framing to finish carpentry, how to deal with clients when I had, say that when we feel that we’re right and we try to teach the client maybe what a better solution is. He always an integral way of how to deal with a problem. So I really … I’m like a sponge with his information.

Russ Doucette:                     Well I think in her background, your parents, your father was a builder?

Teresa Simpson:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). In the trades.

Russ Doucette:                     He was in the trades. So she learned the trades, so she learned it from the bottom up. So when she’s designing she can figure things out, and it’s not always according to the books. In my case, where I started from the ground up. I actually did the physical work. The framing of the homes, the structurals of the homes, the interior trim of the home. So I feel that in my business and where I am today, that helped me tremendously. I’m not what you would call a briefcase contractor that someone just come off the street and start building homes. I know it from the ground up.

Teresa Simpson:                  Everything about it.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Do you think that that can some times be an issue where there’s one person who is dealing with things in a theoretical way, you know they’re designing things based by the books, the way you’re describing it. And then you have somebody else that’s being called in to deal with the very practical nature of say building materials or timelines, or structural details?

Russ Doucette:                     It can be. Basically you can pretty much draw anything you want on paper. But actually physically doing it out on the field is somewhat different. You’re always faced with different challenges because the way they draw it on paper looks great. But when you’re starting to put these grafters together or structurally, you have to have the field knowledge of how to build it. Not just read it from a blueprint, you have to have the practical experience. And in a lot of cases you have to improvise. And when you improvise and you have a architect involved, they want to know what’s going on. So before you go ahead and change certain things different than the plans, they want to know about it. And as I mentioned earlier, some of them are willing to go along with it, some of them aren’t. So it’s a balancing act. Again the end product is the most important thing.

Teresa Simpson:                  I have a lot of clients who come to me with, who have either watched HGTV or get all the fancy magazines including … I actually do use Main Home and Design as a reference material. Because it’s local, it’s trendy, it’s upbeat, everybody gets ideas from it. But with the clients who tend to look at a lot of Pinterest or Howse which are great resources, it sometimes gives an unrealistic approach to design or what not. It misleads our clients. So Russ and I really tend to design what we feel is best for that particular piece of land, or that landscape. Whether it’s inland or on the ocean, and that’s another way that we tend to bounce ideas. They’re true from our hearts and how we feel something should look, as if we would live there. Not necessarily from opening up a webpage or a magazine, even though it’s a good resource. So we try to show clients out of the box per se, rather than out of the magazine per se.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Do you think that sometimes people don’t … they think they know what they want, but they don’t really know what they want?

Teresa Simpson:                  That tends to happen quite a bit with me, or they don’t really know how to verbalize it. They want to be trendy, but they want to be unique at the same time, and we have a tendency to show clients whether it’s from past projects, or again, thinking out of the box. You don’t want the cookie cutter home, maybe some ideas that everyone else shares, but a lot of homeowners whether they can’t voice it or they don’t know how, I have the capability of showing clients 3D perspectives that actually use current materials. Russ will tell me which windows, what brand doors, what flooring, what paint colors. And I’ll actually use those particular materials, show the client a quick 3D just like HGTV would. And it helps them, that client, understand what they’re going to have.

Russ Doucette:                     I think a lot of clients have a pretty good idea what they want. The biggest thing is they can’t visualize it, and I get that all the time. So by being in the business as long as I have, and having so many houses to go by and pictures, et cetera, and dealing with so many clients in the past as well, you have a pretty good sense of what they’re really looking at. Especially when a new client comes to me, is interested in having a project done or built, it takes a while to get to know the individual. You go to their house, you talk to them, you listen, you listen to what … they like craftsman style, traditional, modern, et cetera. So by listening to them more, you get a better idea really what they’re looking for. So when they come to you say, “I know what I want but I can’t visualize it. Can you…” So at that point you get to know them. You have a better idea of what they’re really looking for. So you either sketch it out, or you do a prototype and they see it, they like it or don’t. It goes really well that way.

Teresa Simpson:                  I tend to find that we both tend to hold client’s hands throughout the entire process. And a lot of clients who can’t necessarily vision something or can, don’t always know what to spend on a budget. And having us collaborate from the very beginning of design right through the construction, we can sort of guide the clients as to what their budget or that their project can afford them, rather than just designing beautiful pictures and pouring a foundation that may be something that they don’t want.

Russ Doucette:                     And their budget is not a HGTV budget.

Teresa Simpson:                  Right.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well that must be an interesting conundrum. Because you have people who want beautiful things and they have a sense for maybe how much it might cost. But then it may not be that much here, you know things are going to be different than what they see on HGTV for example.

Russ Doucette:                     Correct. What I like to do is, if somebody’s interested in a house, what I try to do again is, I try to get some information on that house, what style of house, what size of house, what they like inside the house. So at that point I can put all that information together, go back to the office and look at projects that I’ve done, or just by 40 years of experience. I can put a budget together and come back to them and say, “Listen, the size of the house, the style of the house you’re looking for, I feel that a budget of this is what you should really start with. Anything less is …” It basically goes through the interior as well. Somebody’s interested in having a built-in, a custom entertainment center or some kind of cathedral ceiling, barn beams, et cetera. If they tell me in advance, I can tell them what the budget should … what you should allow for a budget before you move forward. So you’re not telling me to do it and then I give you a $5000 bill where you thought it was going to be $2000, you don’t want to do that.

Teresa Simpson:                  We like to be able to show the client the story of their house, and have them show us the book cover. So we’ll create the inside and then present the entire book to them before any logistics start to happen. That’s why I say we usually do best from the design from the very beginning, which is … it doesn’t always get a chance to have that happen between a contractor and an architect. Usually the architect will give the project to a contractor after it’s designed. But we always like to do it from the beginning.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Do you ever run into problems where you’ve designed something, you’ve build something, you’ve listened to people all the way along, and then they come and look at it and they say, “Oh now, that’s really not what I was thinking about,” has that ever happened?

Teresa Simpson:                  Yes, it has. I’ve actually had homes that looked completely different on the rear as it does on the front. Usually an oceanside home has two fronts, one on the ocean, one on the driveway side. When you show, I like to be able to show the clients exactly what they portrayed to me and also offer my ideas. So that way we’re not kind of bursting their bubble, but we actually get to show them, “Maybe your idea wasn’t really what we were trying to get or trying to foresee.” And I know that we’ve kind of collaborated on one like that before.

Russ Doucette:                     Yeah, I mean it’s a common thing, well I say common, not necessarily. I remember when I was actually doing the physical trim work inside of houses. In some cases I had the client sit down while I was doing the built-in. Especially when they didn’t know. So we would try to avoid what you just said, build the whole thing and then it’s not quite what we wanted. Yes that has happened, no question. I think it would happen to any builder having 40 years in the business. It’s not something that’s fun, but it’s something that we thought we were on the right track et cetera. The client thought halfway through it it’s what they wanted as well, but the end product wasn’t what quite what it was. So basically what you do is just basically start all over again and try to avoid it.

Teresa Simpson:                  That’s related to 3D pictures.

Russ Doucette:                     In our business it does happen, no question. I plan on being in business for a while and I’m sure it’ll happen again.

Teresa Simpson:                  Yeah.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When I think about our culture and where we’ve come, we’ve really become very visual. But we’re still sort of two dimensionally visual, which does lead to our ability to say, oh it is a nice picture of something. But thinking in a three dimensional way is a really different thing that I’m not sure most people have the capabilities for.

Teresa Simpson:                  I’ve come across a majority of my clientele who can’t envision in, as you’re saying in 3D fashion being all 2D. So to be able to show a client size relevance, or even roof pitch wise, a lot of people can’t envision what a second floor over first floor will look like, or the size of how large a family living room is. I usually try to encourage clients to do what a I call the paper doll effect. Which they measure their furniture, they cut it out on a piece of paper to a scale I’ve given them, and actually place it on a floor plan. And Russ and I always start with floor plans, and that’s it. We provide that initially rather than the whole kit and caboodle, rather than all the elevations in 3Ds, not to overwhelm a homeowner. Because sometimes if they can’t envision something, too much information can be a burden. So we just start small to be able to show them what we’re in sense we’re going to be showing them and giving them. I think you probably, you’ve taught me one of those-

Russ Doucette:                     Oh now, that’s very true, although today with what Teresa said earlier about Howse and Pinterest, there are a million pictures of just about everything that’s been built already out there. And it’s just a matter of just scrolling through it and finding something. And as I said earlier, if you can get me something that’s close to what you’re looking for but not quite there, that’s when we can come together and collaborate and design something that the individual is really looking for.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Those-

Teresa Simpson:                  I was just going to day, there’s been a few times where we’ve had mutual clients that have shown us the same pictures. So we can tell what’s trendy out there without looking at the websites, because everybody keeps bringing similar pictures.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      So there are some advantages of all of these things then.

Teresa Simpson:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Russ Doucette:                     Oh, all the information that’s out there today is always an advantage, no question. If you know how to use it and how to find it, no question.

Teresa Simpson:                  I still like to have all the resources of the professionals around this area [inaudible 00:48:38] place to like to be able to use the locals who, like Russ, have the experience.

Russ Doucette:                     Forty years ago I don’t think computers were around, so I don’t … so we went on visuals, and what we had done et cetera. I mean it was completely different than it was today. Just like everything else I suppose.

Teresa Simpson:                  We used to build our models rather than creating them on the computer.

Russ Doucette:                     Yes we did that a few times.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      When I think about the younger, I’ll call it the younger generation which is going to make me sound like I’m ancient, but you know, I’ll watch HGTV with my 16 year old, she’s a junior in high school. I don’t think she’s going to go into … she’s not probably going to become an architect, I don’t think she’s going to be a contractor, it’s just not where here interests lie. But for some reason, she and I can find this common ground and watch these shows like Flip or Flop, or, you know. And it’s interesting to me that this has become intriguing and has become a place of commonality. I would not have foreseen that when I was 16, that I would someday be interested in watching a show about home renovation.

Teresa Simpson:                  That’s funny you say that. When I was in high school, I know a lot of my friends would be watching MTV, but I was watching This Old House, so I tend to find … because I like to see something created. One thing that I found, a lot of … that pleases me, is to be able to see a house that I’ve designed from the beginning up, and then see it in Maine Home and Design, or go through, walk through the house. To me that’s like This Old House and watching the show, watching the TV shows, and seeing Chip and Joanna on TV being able to see what they’ve created. I think it’s always neat to be able to walk into a house that you’ve designed and see it for real.

Russ Doucette:                     I think with those shows on TV, HGTV, and again I watch those as well, not on a regular basis but I watch them, like Flip or Flop or Love It or List It. What I like about them is one sense I think they’re teaching America something. Number one is that if you’re buying an existing home and you’re interested in renovating it, that it’s not cut and dry. There’s many, many unknowns. So when you’re looking for a price from a contractor to design what you want, I think they understand that there are going to be a lot of unknowns that most of the time are going to increase the price. Or if you don’t want the price increased, you’re going to have to cut back on something. And you get that a lot on Love It or List It. Okay, they’re going in with $100,000 budget, and they’re going to do a master bedroom, and they’re going to do this or whatever. And then they get into it, they find a big problem, I don’t know how expensive it’s going to be, but she come back and says, “You know that laundry room that you wanted, it’s not going to happen because we got to do this and it’s structural, so we have to fix it.” So I think in one sense if people are really listening or looking, I think they’re understanding that when they want a remodel job done.

Teresa Simpson:                  Because remodeling tends to be more expensive, more than building new.

Russ Doucette:                     Oh no question, no question, it is.

Teresa Simpson:                  And the home is nice. So yeah the Love It or List It teaches us that.

Russ Doucette:                     Right. And then Joanna Gaines, she’s in that area where she likes to re-use old stuff. She doesn’t like to throw anything away. She’s always looking at rummage sales or things of that nature. Which looks good when she puts it all together, no question. I think in those senses, the only thing about that is it’s not really price, you know…

Teresa Simpson:                  It’s not for the New England area.

Russ Doucette:                     Well now, it isn’t. Because I look at some of those things and I said, there’s no way that they can do what they’re doing for that money.

Teresa Simpson:                  We have something similar to that, but we tend to show our clients for the trendy ideas, where it might be less expensive where we could find them, rather than just going to the local flea markets or going to Boston per se to do it.

Russ Doucette:                     Right, so. Again I think we all look at HGTV and know in that respect.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well Maine Home and Design I know has featured your work before, and quite a lot actually. So tell me about a project that you’ve particularly enjoyed collaborating on that has had some maybe challenges that have ended up, you’ve been able to overcome them and turn them into benefits.

Teresa Simpson:                  Yeah, I think one that will be featured soon is the latest Crispin job that we worked on which we had a client that was downsizing to a beautiful home, it’s about 10,000 square feet. And there was roof line challenges, where the homeowners knew what they wanted, they knew they wanted to downsize. And it was up to Russ and I to really be able to make the framing affordable without scaling back on too much of the design aspects. So from street level, it still looks nice, but roof lines and interior two story cathedral ceilings, balconies, that happened on the Crispin job that-

Russ Doucette:                     Yes, that was a great job I think, it was a collaboration not just between Teresa and I but the homeowner was quite involved. And they had a designer of their own that was involved in it as well. So it was one of those projects that we all had to come together and put it all together. At this point the client is very happy, it was a great project. It was probably a year and a half in the making. They just … well the house is just finally done probably a couple three weeks ago. And we are working on another one right now in Cape Elizabeth that was a challenge. And it’s that same issue about the roof rafters in the back and how everything comes together. As I mentioned earlier, you can draw it on paper but you have to be in the field to figure out how to put it together. And that’s the only way you’re going to do it. So we’re doing that right now. And actually after this segment, we’re both going to go down there and look at the job together and …

Teresa Simpson:                  It’s like, for that cathedral ceiling issue.

Russ Doucette:                     Yeah.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      So there’s a lot of kind of ongoing conversation it sounds like. There’s a lot of pulling it apart, seeing what works, getting back together. It’s not really, there’s not one straight path, you’re not always sure that you’re going to start at A and get to B.

Teresa Simpson:                  Right, there’s always the Jenga piece puzzle. We always … I think that’s the challenge and the fun part that I get to learn from Russ is, as I’m designing I’m framing it in my head, but I’m constantly on the phone with him saying, “What if I move this one dormer back a little bit farther, what are we going to do the roof collar ties,” and what not?. And he will literally start verbally framing it on the phone with me, which is actually a good thing right?

Russ Doucette:                     No it is. There are people out there that don’t want to build the bigger projects. They find them not affordable or not a money maker, or it’s just too difficult and they don’t want to go that route. They want to stay with the cookie cutters. Well, I’m not that way. The bigger the challenge, the better it is. And that’s where Teresa comes in hand, because you need each other. You know sometimes on a bigger job, even though you drew it, well I’ll go back to Teresa, let’s redraw this this way and see what happens and see how it looks and so on and so forth. So it really … when you start a project depending on the size and the difficulty of it, it’s not always cut and dry as you just mentioned. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes that takes place to get it done.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      Well I appreciate your taking the time to come in here and have this conversation with me. I have been speaking with Russ Doucette who is the owner of Russ Doucette Custom Home Builders in Scarborough, and Teresa Simpson who is the owner of Midcoast Home Designs in Wiscasset. Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today.

Russ Doucette:                     Well, thank you for having us.

Teresa Simpson:                  Thanks, it was fun.

Dr Lisa Belisle:                      You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 327. Our guests have included Rob Whitten, Todd Richardson, Russ Doucette and Teresa Simpson. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Main Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as doctorlisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are pleased that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producers are Paul Koenig and Brittany Cost. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick, our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Transcription of Love Maine Radio #326: Kevin Browne + Sarah Kelly and Leah Robert


Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle :                            This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to Love Maine Radio show number 326 airing for the first time on Sunday December 17, 2017. Today’s guests are architect and sugar loafer Kevin Browne and sisters Sarah Kelly and Leah Robert, the founders of Salty Girl Boutique and a natural cosmetic line called Salty Girl Beauty. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portal Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the old port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Daniel Cory, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at artcollectormaine.come.

Lisa Belisle :                            Kevin Browne is a Maine licensed architect. He also owns a house in Carrabassett Valley and he skis and mountain bikes at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort throughout the winter months. And you do so with your two children I hear, Kevin.

Kevin Browne:                      Yes, yes.

Lisa Belisle :                            It’s good to have you back in here.

Kevin Browne:                      Thank you, thank you for having me.

Lisa Belisle :                            You’re very welcome. You came in here, I think we decided back a couple years ago, a year and a half ago, we were talking about the Falmouth Library and you live in Falmouth. So I just wanted to get a little update on what’s going on in Falmouth in the library, ’cause there’s some big stuff happening now.

Kevin Browne:                      Yes. We’ve been … the Capital Campaign Committee has been hard at work trying to secure the fundraising to do the renovations. And I believe to-date they have just over 2 million dollars with the goal of raising 2.8. So we’re on the homestretch in terms getting towards that goal to make this a reality for Falmouth and the community. It’s exciting to see it, and as we get closer to that fundraising goal, we’re gonna continue with the design to make sure that everything is in place to have the building built that they want to have it for the community.

Lisa Belisle :                            So what are the things that you’ve learned over the last year or so since I’ve seen you?

Kevin Browne:                      It’s interesting watching the fundraising committee and just understanding how hard it is, with so many other factors in the Falmouth community, ’cause there’s a lot of other entities going after the same fundraising resources. So it’s been a little challenging in that sense but I think they have a really strong committee and it’s been good to see the progress and I think we’re on the homestretch for it.

Lisa Belisle :                            Hen I spoke with Scott Simons about the Portland library, he said one of the interesting things was just the evolution of what libraries are to us. And I think you and I spoke about that last time, where it used to mean one thing, but now information has such a lot of tentacles to it that trying to know how best to work with community members is kind of an evolving process.

Kevin Browne:                      Yes. And I think it’s important in Falmouth in general just because there really isn’t a downtown. I’ve spoken about this last time, but … It’s really, partially a place for people to come congregate and have meetings. It’s not just about the books. It’s more than that. It’s crazy the amount of programs I never even realized until I got involved with the library, what they offer with people, elderly people learning to use electronics, iPads. They have classes for all that stuff. And story time for you kids. They’re very popular programs, an being on the board, we’ve … I’ve learned a lot of the resources they learned at the library. It’s pretty … I never would have guessed.

So I think the building itself it gonna be sort of a meeting place, information center. Just a nice location and the part of Falmouth where there’s a lot of businesses and stuff. And I think it will … it will be a great sort of building for that, to bring all those people together.

Lisa Belisle :                            And I think Falmouth has been trying to create more of a downtown.

Kevin Browne:                      Yes.

Lisa Belisle :                            It’s much easier now to, for example, run or walk even along Route 1 where all the stores are.

Kevin Browne:                      And I think that went back to … they did a reconstruction of route one. Really, they changed the zoning in that area to really slow the cars down and create more, like you said, pedestrian walks. And I think it’s been nice to sort of give it that feel of street lamps and trees and all of those things. Any new building need to be built closer to the road, not further away, like what was currently there. Changing that fabric over time is going to take some time just because … the Walmart, the Staples, all of those things. The idea of bringing the buildings closer to the road will help give it more of a feel of a walkable community.

Lisa Belisle :                            Explain that to me, if you would. Because I know in Yarmouth, where I live, there is a big building that has gone up on Route 1 and it’s right next to the road. And I wondered what is it about that that makes it easier for a town to be walkable?

Kevin Browne:                      I think it’s just, you don’t have a parking lot in front of your building, like the big sea of parking spaces in front of Walmart currently in Falmouth. It’s more about, you look at these old communities, these old towns that have been around for hundreds of years, but all the buildings are pretty much right on the road. But that’s what sort of creates the downtown feel. First is, being more separated from the road where it just sort of gives you this sea of expansive space and asphalt, really. So it’s really a sense … You know, like downtown Portland, you know all the buildings are very close together. You can walk in a store … in and out of stores much easier than walking across a big parking lot.

Lisa Belisle :                            How long have you been an architect, Kevin?

Kevin Browne:                      I’ve been in the architecture business about 19 years. I’ve been an architect for about, let’s say about 15.

Lisa Belisle :                            So tell me what changes you’ve seen, as far as people’s expectations of design. Whether it’s for their own houses or whether it’s for commercial projects.

Kevin Browne:                      I think, when I first started out, I started out in a residential firm in Camden. And we were doing very traditional, shingle-style, Maine homes. But nothing crazy contemporary, nothing like that. But I think it was a nature of the type of firm I was working in, too. But I’m seeing a lot more creative solutions to similar designs. So we’re able to, not basically recreating the things that have been done in different forms but really adding some new interests and exciting new contemporary structures. And that’s kind of what we like to do. We don’t like to do one set sort of style, ’cause it gets boring over time.

To be creative about it, run the gambit with the styles. That’s kind of our goal. And I think, I remember when we first started out, there wasn’t much contemporary stuff going on. Now especially in downtown Portland, there’s just a lot of modern, more contemporary structures going up. There’s so much going on in Portland right now. It’s just interesting to see all the different talents and all the different angles people take with their designs.

Lisa Belisle :                            That’s true. When I was out to dinner the other night with my daughter, she was commenting on one of the hotels in the old port, which looks very different from all the other surrounding places. And I think sometimes people in the past might have said “We want all of the structures to look exactly the same.” But I think it’s lends variety to the landscape. I think there’s some more visual, at least to my mind, some more visual interest to having different types of structures.

Kevin Browne:                      Yeah, It’s more of an evolution of the sort of architecture. Just like the different periods over time. The Arts and Crafts movement, the Art Deco, all those different time periods. I wouldn’t say that there’s a name for what we have going on right now, but it’s just a blend of all those different architecture theories and designs that kind of is creating what we’ve got now.

Lisa Belisle :                            So you have a home in Falmouth, but you also have a home in Carrabassett Valley?

Kevin Browne:                      Yes.

Lisa Belisle :                            Tell me about that choice.

Kevin Browne:                      It’s actually … a rainy day, we were supposed to go hiking and we ended up looking for a house, which wasn’t even something that we were thinking about, my wife and I. But we were gonna hike the Bigelow Range, but it was raining so we drove around the Ruddington neighborhood, which is just south of the mountain. E have good friends that live in the neighborhood, and to us it was appealing because it wasn’t … We like to mountain bike and we like to ski. And at the time that we bought, the mountain biking was just starting to explode up there with the trails that they were building and they money they were putting into the network of trails. So, I’ve always dreamed of having sort of a mountain camp or a lake house or something like that. But, as my wife and Heather and I have been talking, we decided, let’s spend the winters here, skiing on the weekends and being up there just as much in the summertime, depending on schedules.

So we ended up finding a house that day. Well, we ended up going to contact the realtor that was listing the house that was for sale that we bought. And then we went and looked at it. And then I went back and looked at it a few weeks later, and we put an offer on it. It’s a 1970 … 1973 house. Three stories, the neighborhood of Ruddington was all started in the early 70s and … No two homes were the same. They were all different, but that same sort of style. And the style, I was talking about, some of the contemporary forms that we’re starting to see in Portland with the kind of design, is what the house is.

So in a way, it was kind of interesting. We’re slowly trying to make it a fun little funky camp, and it’s a 3 story house but not very wide and long. But it’s actually more comfortable living-wise, the way the rooms are laid out, compared to our home in Falmouth. It’s camp. We get up there and we have a wood stove, which we don’t have at home, so it’s kind of … like a project where we’re doing some creative things to make it our own. But it came fully furnished. We didn’t really need to do much to it. Over time we’ve just been starting to change some things around to make it unique. It’s kind of fun.

Lisa Belisle :                            How long have you been skiing at Sugarloaf?

Kevin Browne:                      I believe we’re going into … Trying to remember now … I think this is our fourth or fifth year up there. Pretty much every weekend through the winter. It’s just a great community, you know. There’s mostly Maine families that we see. Lot of people that are in the kids’ school classes. it’s just a laid back atmosphere. Everyone is so friendly. And I think that’s why we’re really drawn to it. And the kids have their friends that they’re in ski groups with.

Usually we always go to dinner on Friday night when we get up there. And then usually Saturday night we either go to one of our friend’s houses and we have a smorgasbord of food. Buffet kind of thing.

It’s nice. It’s nice hanging out with friends and not feeling like we’re at home and we’re gonna be running around doing errands. We’re up there and either we ski, we cross-country ski, we mountian bike. It’s just, being outdoors is really what it’s about.

Lisa Belisle :                            So in some ways, having a house that’s more like a camp makes that possible. Because it kind of … You want something comfortable enough that you can put your feet up at the end of the day. But during the day, you’re gonna want to be outside.

Kevin Browne:                      And that way we can leave our stuff up there and not have to truck as much stuff back and forth if we were renting a place. Although if we rented it for the season, it would be a little different. But it’s just nice, having that ability to not have to drive two and a quarter hours back home after a long day of skiing or biking or whatever.

Lisa Belisle :                            When did you first start skiing?

Kevin Browne:                      I don’t start until probably 1994. Not until I got out of high school. And it was just something I never, we never did as a family. But I was interested, I did with some friends when I got out of high school. I was starting community college in Pennsylvania. The mountains are much different in eastern Pennsylvania than up here. Or even out west for that matter.

Lisa Belisle :                            Tell me about the decision to move to Maine from going to school in Pennsylvania.

Kevin Browne:                      I want to … I started out my community college in an architecture field in Pennsylvania. My parents wanted to make sure I wanted to become and architect before all the money was spent on the school to realize that’s not what I wanted to do. So it was a much more cost-effective way to get the start to architecture school process. From there, I went on to a Bachelor of Architecture school and I ended up going to Norwich University in Vermont. Really became in love with being in New England, and being in Vermont through the year. I skied even more, I started to get really into skiing when I was in Vermont.

And then, after I graduated from college, I went back to Pennsylvania to work for a year in a firm that I had worked in during the summers during school. Then a friend of mine was working at John Morris Architects up in Camden. He’s like, they were looking for the hire and they were busy, so I ended up interviewing and I moved to Camden, Maine. I thought it would be short term, I didn’t know. I was trying to figure out where I wanted to be. I ended up living and working in Camden 3 years before I then moved down to the Portland area.

And it grew on me. It was more my speed of life, more the outdoors that I liked. Hiking, biking, skiing, you know. The ocean and the mountains close by. When I was living in Pennsylvania, it was an Eastern Pennsylvania town called Hellertown and we were probably an hour and a half from New York City. But it was getting to the point where, it’s gotten really built up over the last … since I’ve left. It’s been about 18, 19 years. And … the traffic. It’s just harder to get to do what I wanted to do, because I’d have to drive further to get there.

So, to me it was … Moving up here, it’s just more my way of life. That’s what I like up here.

Lisa Belisle :                            Do you worry that Maine could move in that direction? With being built up and having more traffic?

Kevin Browne:                      I think certain areas. I think the Portland area, eventually over time. Hopefully there’s … Hopefully we can figure out ways to control that before it gets to the point and it ruins that sort of character that people come to Maine for. Sort of that rural feel to it. But I think certain areas could, bigger city areas. So hopefully there’s ways we can control the growth of that from happening.

But there are a lot of people moving here, that’s for sure. It seems like a hotspot right now, especially the Portland area just with all the building. The empty-nesters, we’re doing a lot of projects for that. The type of people that are downsizing and moving, they want to move closer to the center of town.

Lisa Belisle :                            And at the same time, I’ve noticed that people who are downsizing, and maybe moving to the State of Maine, they’re looking for smaller spaces. I’ve been to a lot of people’s condos that don’t take up very much space. They’re not looking for a big lawn. So there’s something very efficient about that, it feels to me.

Kevin Browne:                      Oh definitely. And I think, we run the gambit for all size projects, but I have to say that you have to think more with those smaller projects because every square inch matters. But you can do some unique things in those small spaces to sort of be dual-purpose. Kinda of an interesting way to think about things.

Lisa Belisle :                            I have to tell you this, this is only the second time this has happened.

So I guess we’ll … Hold on.

So Spencer, do you want me to just keep going? Okay.

All right Kevin, you and I are up and running.

Kevin Browne:                      All right!

Lisa Belisle :                            I’m just gonna lock this down so we don’t get as much background noise.

Kevin Browne:                      I like that.

Lisa Belisle :                            It’s like you’re talking….

Kevin Browne:                      Yeah.

Lisa Belisle :                            All right, let’s see. What was I gonna ask you? Oh yes.

Tell me about your children’s experience up at Sugarloaf. You have two kids who ski, but from what I understand they have very different approaches to skiing.

Kevin Browne:                      Yes. Yes. … I enjoyed skiing, so at a young age I had them both try it, and we started off at Shawnee Peak because it was close. It’s a nice little mountain and … stole decent terrain. So we started off in like a Sunday program, and my daughter did it for I think two years, my son did it for one year. From there, we decided my son wanted a bigger challenge, so he ended up … That’s right about the time we decided to buy at Sugarloaf. The first two or three years I think they were both in the Bubblecuffer program, which is sort of the weekend program that … The people that come up every weekend, that’s the program that their kids usually get put in. They’re with the same kids every week, and they really start to get a little group of friends together from all different tons. Southern Maine, a lot of times. But there’s kids from all over. Most of the time, it’s the Maine families.

It’s incredible how fast they pick it up. I remember skiing with them after their … They’d ski a full day on Saturday and half day on Sunday every week. And at the end of the Holidays they’d be with their group pretty much every day for the week except, like, one or two days or something. That consistency of learning to ski like that, I remember the first time we went skiing I was trying to get my son … Crazy the amount of control they have. You worry about them flying down a mountain, and you’re like oh jeez, hope he’s not going too fast where you can’t control them.

They’ve become really almost better skiers than my wife and I. This is their, going in their fifth year that we’re going into being up there. It’s just fun to watch them. They’re much lower to the ground, so that’s when I’m contributing that they’re taking chances part of it. Yeah, I remember the first time we ran into the trees to start skiing in. I was like, I didn’t want to do that. “Are you sure your instructor’s taken you in there?” But their instructor takes them through every trail on the mountain. Like, double black diamonds and it’s just, it’s crazy. I’m glad you’re trained and you know what you’re doing, because I’ll just …

It’s a little leap of faith to take them, when we first started to take them on some of that challenging stuff. But now I know they can handle it and it’s a lot of fun because we’re not … They’re waiting for us, sometimes, coming down the mountain. It’s a great family thing to do that we can do longterm. It’s not something that we’ll grow out of. It’s something that they can do up until we’re retired. That kind of thing.

So it’s a great family way to all enjoy the same thing.

Lisa Belisle :                            Yeah, I think about the benefits of skiing where you’re, especially if you’re all up there at the same time. There’s a few things to do but most of them are around skiing, at least in the winter. Versus when you’re down here and you have one kid who’s playing basketball and another one who’s swimming and you’re kind of going just from events to events to events, just watching them all the time. It just has a very different feeling to it.

Kevin Browne:                      Yeah. Yeah, it’s totally true and that’s what we’re experiencing right now, being home.One’s doing field hockey and one’s doing soccer and … My wife and I are each trying to find our own time and just balancing all that. It’s a rat race to find the balance. Once it comes Thanksgiving, our weekends, we’re all together and we know what we’re doing. It’s the one thing, we’ve discouraged basketball and those type of winter things because that will cut in. We’re being selfish about it, but we all can do skiing or there’s these other things which would keep us home. Things that would sort of break up the weekend.

Lisa Belisle :                            I think that’s an important consideration. That we want our kids to be healthy, so we want them to be doing things that are active. But then, if you want to keep you family structure healthy, and then to try to find things that everybody can do, whether it’s mountain-biking or hiking or skiing … That’s not necessarily the direction that we go in these days.

Kevin Browne:                      Right, right. And it’s true. We’ve been … They’re both very into mountian biking, too, which we’ve been slow not forcing it one them, but making sure they enjoy it. Because it’s kind of what we do in the summertime. We all go out and again, it’s a lot like skiing. It’s this great family thing that we all love to do. My daughter, this summer, she did it. She did mountain biking with us but she wasn’t always crazy about it like her brother was. But she’s hooked now. She did a camp. An all girls camp at the gear hub, which is part of the Camp Ketcha. And that really energized her. She was all excited when she got done with that.

It’s like a most of the week, half-days, and then the last one they biked all the way down from Portland down to Camp Ketcha. They did like 30 miles, 26 miles, something like that. And then they camped out over night. She loved it. And I think that really energized her to really … A lot of times, like when we were out biking, her brother would be trying to be first and all that. I think that discouraged her a little bit, but I think she’s really energized now to … She enjoys it just as much, I think.

It’s another fun thing that we’re just gonna keep … When we go up to Sugarloaf in the summertime, we … The trails up there are great for all levels. And that’s where they’ve really learned, is to mountain bike in the woods, slowly progressing up to the harder trails.

Lisa Belisle :                            I’ve noticed that I run on a lot of trails that mountain bikers share. And I would say by and large, the people who mountain bike are very aware, and very aware of the runners, the walkers, the dogs, the small children. And also, I think the people who maintain the trails and the mountain bikers and all the users are more and more aware of what happens when you put fat tires on a muddy surface, for example. Or when you have a lot of runners who that are going through.

And I think that that’s kind of … I think that that’s good, that we know that we’re having an impact on the environment and sometimes you need to close a trail down or …

Kevin Browne:                      Yeah, there’s definitely been a lot more advocacy. There’s been a lot of new trails that have opened up in the last 5 years. There’s a lot of groups in place that help control the trail, the user groups. It’s not just mountain bikers. It’s a multi-use trail, so it’s not gonna just be for mountain bikers, it’s for really, everybody. Sharing the trail with those people and being courteous of somebody passing you, you pull over and things like that. It’s just gonna make it much easier to … continue the use of those trails.

One user group’s not yelling at another. Just so everyone is polite to each other. I think it just makes it a much better environment. Certainly, there’s some of those people out there that will go biking on a rainy day, which they shouldn’t. You wait for the trails to dry out, especially in the spring. Because otherwise you’re gonna lose the ability to go back and use that trail because they’ll close that trail.

I think more people are getting a little smarter about being respectful of that stuff.

Lisa Belisle :                            Yeah, it’s an interesting … It’s kind of an interesting discussion. It’s not that different from having a discussion about how you use the trails on a mountain. There’s a lot of different groups that are using those trails and we also have to be aware of our impact on the trees and the other things that are still growing on the mountain and the wildlife. And actually not that different than being aware of more people moving to Portland, more people sharing the space more people sharing the roads.

Kevin Browne:                      You have to work together.

Lisa Belisle :                            Yeah you do have to work together. Which is something we don’t always think. Sometimes we’re more about what’s best for us but we have to realize there’s a lot of other people in the world. Not everybody’s like us.

Kevin Browne:                      No, and I think touching on that, that’s great to see of what’s going on in Carrabassett Valley right now because it’s not just a mountain bike group creating these trails. It’s a collaboration of all these different groups working together to make on trail, or a network of trails. The main Hudson Trails Organization, the town of Carrabassett, the … Sugarloaf Mountain. But the biggest, I think, spearheading part of it is the Carrabassett Valley NEMBA, which is New England Mountain Bike Association.

So they’re all working in conjunction with each other to sort of create this network because they can see this big picture is creating more of a stronger economy for up there. Because Off-season, it’s great in the wintertime, they’ve got all the skiing traffic. In the summertime it’s kind of quiet up there. It’s kind of nice, but, it would be great to … There’s sort of a … area of trails over in northeast kingdom of Vermont, call the Kingdom Trails. They’ve taken the area around Burke Ski Mountain and there are over 100 miles of mountain bike trails.

But you go there in the summer and it’s like the mountain biking Mecca of the northeast. A lot of Canadians coming down, but the whole town is just swarmed with mountain bikers. And I think Sugarloaf is trying and Carrabassett Valley is really trying to create a community like that. But think, if anything, they have more of the potential there in the Carrabassett Valley to be able to do that. It’s just a lot of longterm. There’s lot of land out there to be able to create all this. It just takes the time and the money to get there.

But they town’s been putting in a lot of money into that, because they can see, this could be a longterm economic help for them.

Lisa Belisle :                            Well, I will see you up at Sugarloaf. I know that for sure. Although, I also know that we cross paths often because of the work that you do with Maine Home Design. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, and I appreciate you coming in. I’ve been speaking with Kevin Browne who is a Maine Licensed architect who also owns a house in Carrabassett Valley and he skis and mountain bikes at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort throughout the winter months along with his wife and two children. Thanks for coming in.

Kevin Browne:                      Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is also brought to you by Aristelle. A lingerie boutique on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port. Where every body is seen as a work of art, and beauty is celebrated from the inside out. Shop with us in person, or online at

Lisa Belisle:                             Sister Sarah Kelly and Leah Robert are the sounders of Salty Girl Boutique and a natural cosmetic line called Salty Girl Beauty. It’s great to have you in today.

Leah:                                          Thanks for having us.

Sarah:                                        Thanks for having us.

Lisa Belisle:                             This is something I’ve been interested in for a while because, we know that health products, or beauty products, I should say, aren’t necessarily good for our health. And it seem to be that something maybe not as many people are aware of.

Sarah:                                        Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             But you’re both pretty aware of this.

Sarah:                                        Yes.

Leah:                                          We are.

Sarah:                                        So I started out my career working at Toms of Maine, so it’s always kind of been something that we were brought up, using natural products. But then, it was funny, it was more body care products and also eating organically and natural and whole foods, and that kind of stuff. And then in 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I was … It makes you kind of rethink everything when that happens. And Leah is an oncology nurse, and so the two of us just started really looking at what we put on our bodies.

Not only did the body care become important, but I realized my makeup case is just full of products that is not good for you. The mascara has Formaldehyde in it, that’s why it’s water-resistant. All of those things that you’re putting on every single day is just not as good as you would want it to be. And there’s just so many great products out there, and that’s when Leah and I just started to be like “What are we doing? I think this could be a business for us.”

Leah:                                          And I think with my career in nursing, I don’t think that there’s much education with patients about the products that they use at home. What I do, as a nurse is I give chemotherapy. So I give treatment. And after their treatment, then they live their lives, and I think sometimes there’s no followup on eating right, what products to use, and what products you have been using and what sometimes can cause- And I’m not saying that beauty products cause cancer, but, you know when there is just as effective products out there that you can use that will do that job-

Sarah:                                        That include those things.

Leah:                                          That include those things, why not? And it’s really nice that now my patients are recognizing me, recognizing our brand and saying “Oh my gosh, I’ve been on your website. I love you products.” And I can start that conversation with them before they go home, after I treat them, which I really nice.

Lisa Belisle:                             One of the things I’ve noticed with beauty products is … Sometimes you have to work with maybe not getting as … Well, effective, I guess is the word for it. A product, in order to get healthier products. And what you’re suggesting is now there are better products that can be just as effective and clean your face just as well. The makeup can look just as nice. And just not have extra stuff in it.

Sarah:                                        There’s been so much research and scientific advancement over the last 25 years, so the deodorant that people might have started with as a teenager, or as a … what our parents might have used, is so different now. And there is a difference between the chemicals. They stop, they block things. And then some of the natural approaches, it is body chemistry, so sometimes people might use that first deodorant or that first cream or something and it doesn’t fit well with their body chemistry, but it doesn’t mean all natural products are like that. So I think sometimes you do have to experiment a little bit to find out what the best approach is. So I know I’ve gone through a couple different natural deodorants before I found the one that works for me. That’s an important thing.

But then, from a cosmetic standpoint, it’s, I think, the products out there … There’s so many wonderful products out there that are just as effective. And they make your skin feel better. Some of the skin problems that have been out there have been cause db the chemicals that are in these conventional products. And when you pick a natural product, it’s used with aloe or shay butter or mango butter. And those are good things for your body.

Leah:                                          And there’s just not much regulation in the United States with using ingredients, and I think people don’t realize that. I know that the last article I read, there’s British literature out there saying parabens were found in breast tissue of women with breast cancer. There is research out there, so it’s just what you decide to do. What do you do with that literature and I think for Sarah and I, if there’s research out there, we wanna …

Sarah:                                        Educate.

Leah:                                          Educate ourselves, yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             Well we know that in Europe and even in Canada, people are a lot more careful about what they’re using. And in part because the government is helping regulate those things.

Sarah:                                        There’s only 11 ingredients banned in the United States, versus over-

Leah:                                          13 hundred, 12 hundred in the EU

Sarah:                                        In the Eu. So it just … That alone makes you step back and take a breath and be like, whoa. What are we using?

Leah:                                          Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             I have a special concern about the younger women especially. For example, my 21 year old daughter and my 16 year old daughter. My son doesn’t wear makeup, so he can have healthier soaps and that’s good. But, they’re getting into makeup and body care at a time when their bodies are still really vulnerable. And for the longest time, I’ve tried to emphasize natural and healthy products. And they’re expensive. And my kids, when they go to buy these at the store, they’re like, “You know, I have to decide between this very expensive, natural product and this very inexpensive product that has all these chemicals in it.” And as a parent I can step in and be like “All right, I’ll help you out with this. I’ll help pay for this for a little while.”

But it is an issue when you’re out on your own and you’re on a limited, have a limited budget. So how do you deal with that.

Sarah:                                        So, for us, I mean … Our philosophy has always been pick the most important things that touch the biggest area of your body, and go from there. So when people are trying to make that switch, for example, I don’t say throw away everything in your medicine cabinet and go buy new because that’s-

Leah:                                          It’s too expensive.

Sarah:                                        I know when we were making the switch alone, it was … I ran out of my mascara. Okay, now you buy a new one.

Leah:                                          It took us a full yeah.

Sarah:                                        Yeah to go.

Leah:                                          To really make that switch. And then, you can also pick and choose those products that are more important to you. So I wear mascara every day as a redhead, that’s important to me. So if I was gonna pick and choose things, that is something I would invest in as a natural. I don’t always wear foundation, so if I was looking at price … and I could only choose certain things, maybe that’s not the area that I would choose to spend my money in.

So I think you can do it that way, and there also products … It all ranges, so out product line is within the 20 dollar. Our lipsticks, our cheek tints, our concealer, mascara. That foundation is a little bit more expensive, but it lasts a while, too. Like I said Burt’s Bees, which is a little bit lower, so you can pick … I think there’s comparative brands out there in the marketplace.

In our boutique, we sell things that are 120 creams or a 20 cream so you can really choose and pick what fits your budget. And I think the biggest thing, especially with the younger generation is, and even with women in general is, deodorants in general I think is the most important thing to first switch over. Because we shave our underarms, me nick our armpits, and then we put toxic chemicals right into our bloodstream. I think the first thing, we have to take care of our skin. It’s our largest organ, so … I think the number one things that if you’re thinking about making the switch, is kind of focusing on deodorants

Which, deodorants are so personal, you know? It’ show you smell. It can be hard.

Lisa Belisle:                             And I agree to Sarah’s point that it hasn’t always been that you can find a natural deodorant that actually works. And having experimented with many of these, over time … Sometimes you give up quite a lot in order to have a natural product. But they are getting better and better.

And sometimes you can just … “Okay I can use my natural product this percentage of the time, which is most of the time.” And every so often you need to go with the product that maybe works a little bit better.

Leah:                                          Yeah.

Sarah:                                        Yeah.

Leah:                                          I mean, I tell women when you are making the switch, for two weeks bring your conventional deodorant with you to work. So when that 2 o’clock time comes and you’re starting to smell maybe a little bit, you just add a little more. But it can take up to … I think a couple weeks for your body to get used to something like that. That’s fine if you have to apply your deodorant that you were using before just to detox-

Sarah:                                        Yeah. It is your body detoxing itself, getting rid of all the toxins ’cause it’s been used to being suppressed from a deodorant standpoint, at least.

Leah:                                          And I think Sarah and I with our boutique. It’s all about education, it’s all about our customers first. So when they do email us and say “I got this one deodorant. It’s not working.” Well, why don’t you try this one?

I think we’re very … What am I trying to say? … We want …. Yeah! We want our customers to really like their products.

Sarah:                                        And find one that works for them.

Leah:                                          Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s a pretty competitive market, is it not?

Sarah:                                        It is.

Lisa Belisle:                             There are a lot of people who have resources that are funneling them into these types of products. So what had your experience been, getting into this yourselves?

Leah:                                          I think, what differentiates Sarah and I is our story. Everybody has a passion. If you’re in this industry of health and wellness, but I think with us it’s-

Sarah:                                        It’s our story, but then also along with our boutique and our beauty line that we started, we also started a nonprofit. Register 501C3, that’s called Foundation for Love. When I was going through treatment, I had a 15 month old and I as pregnant at the time as well. And me and my husband had just gotten married a couple months prior to that, so … I think my family, my friends, they saw that me and my husband Chris really needed time together just to unplug. Unplug from what we were going through. ‘Cause I went through months of chemo and then radiation and surgery.

And so, our foundation focuses on giving back to adults and many of the adults that we give back to are also young parents themselves. It’s almost like Make a Wish but for adults. And on a smaller scale ’cause we’re small. But we’ve given, most recently, a family in Massachusetts, he had stage 4 stomach cancer. He had a 5 and a 7 year old, and he wanted to bring his 5 year old daughter to her first Red Sox game. So we were able to send the family to their first Red Sox game, they were able to meet Jackie Bradley Jr. And they had a wonderful day and he passed way a month later.

So like, to be able to give back in that way has been significant for us. Like, always makes me a little upset, but to see what these people are going through and for us to be able to build our business on kind of that foundation-

Leah:                                          Giving back.

Sarah:                                        To be able to give back. Not only are we educating about what’s out there, trying to provide a really great product. But then also give back to our community is really meaningful for us.

Leah:                                          Yeah.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was it like to watch your sister go through breast cancer, especially given that you’re an oncology nurse.

Leah:                                          Well, I’ve been in this … I’ve been a nurse for 10 years. And for some reason you think that yourself and your family’s untouchable to cancer because of what you do. Don’t ask me why I thought that, but I did. And so I remember when my sister called, and she was 32 weeks pregnant and she found a lump, you know we thought it as just her breasts changing and I said “You’ve gotta go get an ultrasound, tell your OB.”

And then when the diagnosis came back … I think it made me become a better person in a way. Oncology nursing has made me be a better person, in general. These patients that I take care of are so resilient, they’re amazing. They come in with a smile on their face and I know they go home and they just feel defeated some days. And then I add my sister into that group it’s like, jeez. I know exactly what you’re going through because my sister went through it. So sometimes I think I can relate to them on a different level than a nurse who maybe hasn’t had a family member go through it.

It was hard. I mean, I had to at times … I wanted to be a sister first, especially, and a daughter to my parents who I saw them struggle. And that was really important. But then, I needed to be a nurse, too with my family and with my sister.

Sarah:                                        I felt bad we were always you-

Leah:                                          Yeah, I mean.

Sarah:                                        This is what’s going on. What does it mean? And she’s like, “Call your doctor.”

Leah:                                          It was hard. My father, I think, was the worst. He would call me. “What does this mean? What does this mean?”

So it was just, you know, being there for them. When I look back at it, I’m not happy that this happened to my sister, but I’m really happy that I was able to have the experience that I have, and just to be there for her.

Sarah:                                        It definitely brought us closer.

Leah:                                          And then it brought this business.

Sarah:                                        Yeah.

Leah:                                          I mean, we really took lemonade … lemons and turned it into lemonade. We’ve had one hell of a ride doing it.

Lisa Belisle:                             When I … When I went through breast cancer myself, I was so surprised, because I tried to use natural products. I was aware of my makeup and my natural shampoos. And I didn’t smoke and I was a runner, and I ate healthy foods. And the people around me were shocked. And I had no family history. And I think that this is the funny place that we get ourselves into. That we know where the risk factors are for things like breast cancer, but we forget that most people who have breast cancer are actually, don’t have for example a family history. And many people don’t even have recognizable risk factors. It’s a funny … I thought I did everything right, but you can still get cancer.

Sarah:                                        That’s exactly-

Leah:                                          That what everybody says. And there’s no answer. Especially when we educate women, obviously we’re not saying “Using all natural products will decrease your risk tremendously.” We don’t know what’s gonna happen.

Sarah:                                        It’s all about taking every precaution, I guess.

Leah:                                          Yeah. And just being-

Sarah:                                        Making the right, for us, the right decision. And we always caution with the judgment or telling people they have to use certain things, because I really think that you have to decide what’s best for you at the end of the day. And I hope people that come to us get that sense as well. That we’re definitely not saying you have to do this, but these are our recommendations if you are looking to make those switches.

Like you said, there’s no foolproof way of avoiding cancer, unfortunately.

Leah:                                          It doesn’t discriminate.

Sarah:                                        We don’t know. It doesn’t discriminate. So I was 36, I had run marathons. I was healthy. Like you said, there was no family history of any type of cancer in my family, so it was definitely a shock. That’s why, you’ve got to exercise, you have to eat right and you have to choose healthy products because you just don’t know what could be that trigger for your body that leads into cancer, I guess.

Lisa Belisle:                             And it’s also something that there are more and more people that are being diagnosed younger and younger with all different types of cancer. Breast cancer specifically, but I think even colon cancer we’ve no seen. The recommendation is, 50 you get a colonoscopy. But that might actually change. So there’s a lot of stuff going on right now and our bodies are really trying to deal with this. But if we want to have long lives, ’cause we still have a pretty long life expectancy as an American group, then we kind of have to maximize our chances. Even if it’s not a guarantee.

Sarah:                                        And I think … So, not only is it about using natural products, for us. But that trickles down, right? I think a lot of cancer, and this is just my opinion, has to do with the stress that we’re exposed to, and the environmental components that are in the environment now. And so, if we use products that aren’t using chemicals, then those products aren’t going into the environment. And so it’s all about the trickle down and creating that atmosphere you want to live in. That’s part of our philosophy and what we’re doing. We’re not using chemicals. We’re taking that piece out of … It’s like vegetarian. Meatless Mondays. You go meatless one day and how that trickles down into the ecosystems of helping lessen the carbon footprint is tremendous.

That’s part of why we do what we do as well. I think it all kind of comes back to one thing at the end of the day.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s also something … It’s important to recognize a lot of the things that maybe leading to cancer also are hormone disruptors. Even if people don’t get cancer, they might have problems with early menopause or maybe they’re gonna struggle with-

Sarah:                                        Infertility.

Lisa Belisle:                             Infertility, or … I really believe that there is some sort of chemical something that’s going on in the environment that is cause people to have problems with losing weight and being a thyroid disruptor. So, again, can’t really prove any of this stuff. It’s all kind of in the same …

So the other thing that I think about is, as I said, my children. And I’m guessing that … Obviously your children are very young, Sarah, but, at some point it’s gonna be nice that you’re role-modeling the behavior that your hope that they will someday take on themselves.

Sarah:                                        Yes. Yeah. I have a 2 year old daughter now and a 3 year old son. Like you said, recommending products to your teenagers, it’s the same thing when I put on my makeup in the morning and my daughter wants- or my son for that matter, wants to grab my lipstick and put it on. I feel okay about them doing that. When they say, “Are you going to Salty Girl? Can we go to Salty Girl with you?” That makes me feel really proud. They’re really excited about coming to the shop and seeing what we do.

Leah:                                          How we interact with our community and the events that we put on.

Sarah:                                        People that we help.

Leah:                                          It’s been pretty rewarding.

Sarah:                                        Yeah. And so, Leah’s obviously expecting in a couple of months. And then I have my two. I hope they always look up to us and think that we’re doing things that are changing the world a little bit.

Lisa Belisle:                             Why is it called SaltyGirl?

Sarah:                                        Do you want to do it?

Leah:                                          Well, I think if you know Sarah and I, we’re two redheads. We’re pretty sassy. We’re confident. And so what a salty girl means to us is just being the best woman you can be, be confident, be beautiful, be sassy. Just be you authentic self.

Sarah:                                        And a little badass.

Leah:                                          Yeah. I forgot that. That’s huge, actually. I think that’s on our packaging. Being a little badass. I think that’s awesome. So that’s what that means.

Lisa Belisle:                             And is there something special about the fact that you’re here in Maine, with your product line being Maine-based?

Leah:                                          Well, we grew up …

Sarah:                                        I was in college and Leah was starting High School here, so. Leah grew up more so here. But, we … I grew up in Connecticut, so this has always felt more like home. And I lived in Boston for 15 years almost prior to moving up here after I was done with chemo. And it just … Being close to Leah, our other sister, we have a brother that is a merchant marine now. But he’s home, and then my parents, so … It’s amazing just to be close with the family and nature and-

Leah:                                          The ocean has always been part of our lives. I think that salty, too, that’s where is comes from as well. Even when we were in Connecticut, we would always vacation in Maine. Maine’s always been a big part of our lives.

Lisa Belisle:                             And where do you hope to see you company going in the next 5, 10 years?

Sarah:                                        We’d love to be-

Leah:                                          A national brand.

Sarah:                                        Known nationally by people. We’re definitely working with a lot of boutiques right now. And wellness and cancer centers provide our product as a resource to their patients and customers. And then we’re speaking at a couple of conferences coming up this fall.

Leah:                                          One in New York City, which is really exciting. Being from lowly southern Maine.

Sarah:                                        We have a really great partnership with Dana-Farber. So we’re doing their Young and Strong conference next week. So, yeah. I hope we’re able to touch as many lives as possible, especially … Our biggest message is definitely … Why we started with he cosmetic line too, I don’t think we said this. After you lose you hair, and especially your eyelashes, putting on makeup becomes very difficult. So putting on lipstick became really important to me. I put on a scarf because I just didn’t like the wig. And I put on a colorful lipstick and I felt empowered. I felt, “Okay, I kind of look like myself right now.” And we want to be able to share that message with women.

Whether you’re going through treatment or some other kind of journey, that’s how we wanna share.

Leah:                                          That’s what we wanna share with women.

I think it’s pretty special and pretty cool at the same time that we’ve developed a line that caters to women going through treatment, and women who don’t have cancer. We all have something in common.

Lisa Belisle:                             Sisters Sarah Kelly and Leah Robert are the founders of SaltyGirl Boutique and a natural cosmetic line called SaltyGirl Beauty. Thanks for coming in today, and that you for bringing your product and your spirit, your beautiful spirits into the world.

Sarah:                                        Thank you so much for this.

Leah:                                          Thank you for having us.

Lisa Belisle:                             You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 326. Our guests have included Leah Robert, Sarah Kelly, and Kevin Browne. For more information on our guests, and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a previous of each week’s show, sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook Page. Follow me on twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram.

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This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. Join us again next week, and in the meantime may you have a bountiful life.

Speaker 1:                               Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producers are Paul Koenig and Brittany Cost. Our assistant producer is Shelby Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy. And our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle.

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Transcription of Love Maine Radio #325: Barrett Takesian + Vanessa Seder

Speaker 1:                               You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by doctor Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in tops … Show summaries are available at

Lisa Belisle:                             This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you’re listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 325, airing for the first time on Sunday, December 10th, 2017.

Today’s guests are Barrett Takesian, president and executive director of Portland Community Squash, and Vanessa Seder, chef, food stylist and founding member of Relish and Co, who recently published a cookbook called Secret Sauces. Thank you for joining us.

Speaker 1:                               Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at

Lisa Belisle:                             Barrett Takesian opened the community center at Portland Community Squash in January of 2017 and he currently serves as president and executive director. Thanks for coming in today.

Barrett T.:                                Thanks for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             You and I both went to Bowdoin College, I notice.

Barrett T.:                                That’s news to me. That’s great. Go U bears.

Lisa Belisle:                             Go U Bears, indeed, but before that you grew up in Southwest Harbor.

Barrett T.:                                Yeah, for the first 10 years of my life I grew up on the Hinckley Boat Yard, right at the bottom of the harbor in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             What was that like growing up at the Hinckley Boat Yard?

Barrett T.:                                Despite having sailing all around me, I was a high energy kid so my preferred activity in that small town was throwing a ball against the barn, and when the winter came I moved up to the attic and thought I was an Omar Garcia Parra throwing the ball across at the window at the other side of the attic. I was an active kid. It was me and my little sister and we actually had a pond in the backyard, too, so my grandfather used to stock it with trout and I did a little fly fishing as a kid, too.

Found a way to stay active in a little bit of a sleepy town, but now I really appreciate the true beauty up there, every chance I get to go back.

Lisa Belisle:                             It’s an impressive boat yard. I’ve actually been there so I think about how much has been put into that town, just by virtue of having that business there.

Barrett T.:                                Yeah. That business has really shaped a lot of the values in my life. My grandfather ran the Hinckley company when I was a kid and I ended up moving away when my mother remarried, for my middle school and high school years down in Boston, but I just remember the Hinckley company grew really fast after my grandfather had sold the company, and once that small brand got leveraged to be a big company, it went through some tough times and the company’s in great shape now because I think they’ve gotten back to their smaller roots, but what a beautiful thing when all the boats were built there in Southwest Harbor and everyone in that community was contributing to that one brand.

When it outgrew that small town feel, I think, the company had a little bit of a different identity, but now that I run my own business, I think about the beauty of simplicity and not necessarily overgrowing too fast but enjoying the community that you’ve built and the people that it’s sustaining.

Lisa Belisle:                             You were an economics major at Bowdoin.

Barrett T.:                                Yeah, I hung on. I studied … I went into Bowdoin. I thought I had a game plan. I transferred in halfway through my sophomore year and I studied economics and environmental science and I loved the idea of the futuristic nature of green energy and thinking about how cool it would be to have these electric cars on the streets and these farms that were off the gird, powered by solar, so I had a vision that drove me in college and then when it was time to look for a job, I realized that it might have sounded great in my head but it wasn’t necessarily where my passion was.

I ended up taking a job for an insurance company here, Unum, in Portland, which was a great training program. It taught me how to be a professional, and then from there I got to explore a few more of my interests and it turned out that building community was what was most important to me, and that’s what I really took from Bowdoin, was the fact that no matter where I was on the campus, I was with people that supported me and I wanted to bring that type of a community wherever I went.

In the case of my early 20s, that was Portland, Maine.

Lisa Belisle:                             When you talk about throwing a ball against a wall, that’s basically my child. He was growing up, and I think he thought he was an Omar, also. He’s a little younger than you but it really was important to him. He was, like, a constant motion kind of kid.

Barrett T.:                                Sure.

Lisa Belisle:                             At the same time, he also, I think, really relished being a part of a team. He played baseball. Do those things all kind of come together in the job that you’re doing now?

Barrett T.:                                Yeah, absolutely. When I think about what I and the rest of the team of Portland Community Squash can offer our kids, things we talk about our helping kids find a passion and a community that supports them. When I was a kid in a small, somewhat isolating setting in Southwest Harbor, the Red Sox were that community for me. I had a little AM radio in my bedroom and I used to swing at every pitch and I still have great memories all the way into my teenage my years, listening to the Red Sox on that radio, whether I was cooking dinner with my dad or whatnot.

I still have that radio today, so that was my little community as a kid, and the community that I offer students now is one that revolves around a sport I found in Boston, Squash.

Lisa Belisle:                             Talk to me about Squash. I grew up, in the 80s, it was racquetball, which I think is somewhat different, but why Squash?

Barrett T.:                                Yeah, well, racquetball was really an American phenomenon. We have 30,000 racquetball courts in the United States and 3,000 squash courts, but if you look internationally, squash is played in 185 countries, goes back to the early 1800s. It came out of the UK, and racquetball is a great game for the recreationalist because you can just get out there. The ball’s bouncing everywhere. It’s pure athleticism, not as much as technique.

The nature of squash, it’s actually a dead ball, or we call it a dead ball, meaning it doesn’t have that same lively bounce. If you were to drop a squash ball on the floor it would barely come off the ground. How that translate onto a court is that you have total control of where you hit the ball.

If you decide to hit a short shot in the front of the court, you move your opponent to the front, that opens up the back, then you can send it to the back of the court, so there’s a lot more technique to learn how to control the ball, but it’s a game that you can never stop learning about because you’re constantly battling to get your opponent out of position and then applying pressure, so there’s a lot of strategy and a lot of cardio, too, because you’re lunging into every corner of the court for 45 minutes.

It has a lot more traction at the collegiate level. At the professional level, there’s a really robust tour with players from all over the world, and now it’s the two fastest growing countries in the world are China and the United States for Squash right now. It’s a good sport to be part of.

Lisa Belisle:                             You learned about this in Boston.

Barrett T.:                                Yeah. When my father moved to Boston, someone recommended he try Squash out as a way to meet people in the city, and I used to hop on a court in the basement and just hit around until my dad was done with his matches, but I remember the club pro telling me to hold a pencil out and see if I could get the pencil to go in the strings of the racquet to see if I had the hand-eye coordination, and my dad turned to the pro and said, “I don’t think you know my son,” so he just gave me a ball and I’d go down in there and solo for an hour straight when I was six, seven years old, and ended up playing tournaments and getting recruited to high schools to play, believe it or not, and eventually it was my path to Bowdoin, as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             You went from being an Omarr to being, like, the squash guy.

Barrett T.:                                Yeah, sure, Peter Nicol, he was my squash idol.

Lisa Belisle:                             Peter Nicol. Why do you think that in the United States and in China, squash is growing in popularity?

Barrett T.:                                Unfortunately, I think a lot of it is fueled by this desire to be recruited to colleges. In the New York Times, about 10 years ago, I wrote an article about how squash was the secret pathway into the ivy league universities, and to be honest, it was. Squash in the United States was only played in prep schools and elite universities. We, in this country, still, we actually have more collegiate squash positions than we do high school squash positions.

Think about a sport like basketball where you have 100 high school players for every one collegiate player. Squash is upside down on its head, so you might have one high school squash player for every two college squash players, so a lot of the collegiate teams are actually filled by recruiting international students to come in and play for these programs.

Now, we have 70 collegiate programs and just a great college sport to be part of. Any time that there’s a clear next step after high school participation, kids are going to get put into the sport, but the problem with the sport has always been accessibility. The program that we created here in Portland is known as the most accessible squash facility in the country.

We have an extremely affordable membership for anyone in the community to come enjoy the sport. Squash is a sport at every Portland public school now, elementary, middle and high school, and we even have programs that work with students year round for 10 years to make sure that, if squash is a passion of yours, it’s something that can take you all around the world and to a great college one day.

We don’t shy away form the fact that it’s a good tool, but for us, it’s a lot more than throwing a lot of money towards a kid so that they can get into a school. For us, it’s the 17 feet between the courts we feel is a really powerful community at Portland Community Squash, and so we use it as a hook and a common ground to bring together every demographic in Portland.

It didn’t have to be squash. It could have been theater. It could have been ice skating. It could have been anything, but squash just happens to be a really powerful too for doing the work that we’re doing. A lot of cities across the country have taken notice and are trying to replicate what we’ve created here in Portland.

Lisa Belisle:                             How long has squash been part of the Portland community?

Barrett T.:                                It really started taking off when a volunteer, Greg [Borne 00:12:06] just decided to bring some structure to a small league at the YMCA. When I moved to Portland, I found a pretty robust group of adult players that were playing on converted racquetball courts at the Y, and it was everything great about squash. Although, there was the opportunity to grow that community and to make it more diverse and to use it as a tool to uplift youth in our city, as well.

I got involved to bring that youth element, that diversity element, and the energy to Greg’s organizational skills and from 2013, when I first became involved, until now, we’ve become a multi-million dollar non-profit with a building and serving hundreds of kids in the Portland school system and hundreds of families that are enjoying the community, as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             Is this something that requires one to have a specific level of knowledge before going in? Do you have to have any skills at all?

Barrett T.:                                Right. Absolutely not. One of the first things we did was to put some beginner clinics in place just to make anyone feel welcome so that if we ran into anyone on the street we could say, “Hey, we have a Tuesday night women’s clinic. It’s 6:30 PM. It’s totally free. We have all of the equipment. We have a great coach, Mary Lou [Forzen 00:13:26] that’s there to instruct, and then on Thursdays we have the men’s clinic so we encourage anybody to come by at 6:30 on a Thursday night.

We have all the equipment there. We run a great clinic, get you introduced to it, and then we have a bunch of leagues and whatnot for every level, so that if you want to become involved, with facilitate all those introductions for you.

Any time someone comes in our facility, our membership’s really attractive but we’re quick to tell them, this is our real mission, about uplifting first generation college seekers and any student in Portland that wants to be part of this program, so we encourage all of our members to volunteer and our members volunteer a couple hundred hours a week, not each but collectively, as mentors, tutors, coaches, cleaning the facility, you name it.

It’s that community vibe that we’re trying to make clear every time we have someone new into our space.

Lisa Belisle:                             How many people do you have currently involved in this?

Barrett T.:                                Our committee’s alone are probably 75 to 80 people, spanning from development to real estate to junior program committees to events. We have great parties and outreach, as well. We have a huge network of dedicated volunteers running the organization.

Then, from a membership perspective, we have 200 memberships but a hundred of those are families, so probably are serving about 400 individuals that are using the space as their own, and then we serve about 120 students a week in our facility across our elementary school, middle school, high school programs, and as we start sending students to college as well, we’re supporting our students that are in college, as well.

On any given year, we’re working with about 200 youth, as well.

Lisa Belisle:                             How many students have you successfully gotten into a college at this point?

Barrett T.:                                One of our first students was Devon [Case 00:15:35] who just graduated from Caska Bay high school, and he was with us at the YMCA, so he’s the oldest student in our program. He is a freshman at SMCC right now. He works almost full time on our staff as well, coaching the younger students and running the facility, and then he’s interested in doing a wildlife biology major at either Western Ontario University or U Maine [inaudible 00:16:02], and he’ll get into either one, I’m sure. He’s an extremely hard working kid.

He’s the first one to have gone all the way through, but the real goal I’m working towards is, in five years, we want to be the number one youth development program in the state of Maine. It’s really going to take that long to start working students through our full curriculum which is an hour of squash, an hour of fitness and an hour of academic support every day after school.

Back then, when Devon was with us, I used to all the kids, “Listen, we used to be an entirely volunteer run organization run out of those [inaudible 00:16:42] courts at the YMCA.” I told the kids the level of programming is a two out of 10 right now, but you’re part of this because we’re trying to build a 10 out of 10 program.

I would say, we’re about six months away from a 10 out of 10. We’re probably eight out of a 10 right now, working out the choreography of how students flow through practice, why they think they’re there, the ownership they feel over the program, all these intangibles that need to be in place to build this culture of excellence, and then once we’re at a 10 out of 10 it’s five years of being in a 10 out of 10 program that you start thinking, “Okay, Harvard or one of these elite universities is a place that I could excel.”

When you walk into our facility we have college banners hanging over every inch of the space, and from fourth grade all the way through, you’re thinking big. You’re thinking about goals, and you’re trying to find those two things: passion and community, because we think those are the two things that will carry you all the way through.

Lisa Belisle:                             In your mind, what does a 10 out of 10 program look like?

Barrett T.:                                First of all, a 10 out of 10 program, a staff is just there to help and guide. The students really run it, so I have organizations that I look up to. One in particular is Squash Busters in Boston. When a new student goes into that program, they’re greeted with a handshake by an older student the second they walk in the door. They look to the older students to see what’s going on, and the students are what’s driving the culture. It’s not the staff. For us, we’re putting these programs in place and these expectations. We talk about respect, effort and positivity, and we track those things in every stage of practice.

Kids are flowing through an hour of hard work on court. They’re doing an hour of fitness or yoga, and then they’re flowing into our classrooms for academic support after practice, as well. Right now, it’s the coaches that are reminding students why we’re doing this, what our values are, why hard work is so important, but you only have to be that broken record for a couple years until your students are the ones that start telling that message.

That’s when you know you really made it, because the students have a much stronger voice than their coaching staff when it comes to influencing peer behavior.

Lisa Belisle:                             You said that you’re a multi-million dollar non-profit. Why are people so interested in supporting a non-profit that centers around squash?

Barrett T.:                                When I say a multi-million dollar non-profit, I’m not talking about our annual fund, because … Portland doesn’t need a lot of multi-million dollar annual funds. We’re all doing our best to meet our annual fund goals. I’m talking about our balance sheet and the initial rounds capital we were able to raise to put a sustainable program in place for what we hope will be the next hundred years.

When I was in the community meeting with people about why you want to support Portland Community Squash, I talked a little bit about that culture. We’re going to create a culture that’s going to perpetuate excellence and results from students that might not otherwise have after school activities. The return on investment in terms of shaping youth in the city was there, and we had proven models, and we had a proven track record of working with youth here in Portland at the Y.

We promised that, but we also promised a really sustainably operated non-profit, and one of the talking points I used when meeting with our first supporters was, this is crazy but we just met, and I’m already talking about a capital gift because we were crazy. We started with a capital campaign. Not many organizations would do that, but we were really confident in our plan. I said, “I’m asking for a capital gift but what you’re building is a really sustainable community, because our membership creates a lot of recurring revenue, so half of our annual budget is through earned revenue, and that just takes a huge load off of the organization and the time of our staff.”

As an executive director, most of my peers that are other executive directors are spending their whole day out in the community fundraising, but I really don’t have to do that anymore. I’m in my sweats right now because I’m on court every day with our students. I’m helping run yoga, fitness, I’m in the class room, and to be an executive director and to be able to be part of that front line programming staff is really unique.

That’s just to show the point that, by thinking a little bit more creatively about how we can have mixed uses in our space, it’s really freed us up to be this really efficient organization that spends all of our time working on our youth and not so much having to worry about covering our administrative and facility expenses.

Lisa Belisle:                             It sounds like you’ve really been able to tap into a variety of different interests that you hold. You’re doing some coaching, some teaching, some fundraising, some business work, some directorial duties, many, I’m guessing. When you were going through high school and college, did you have a sense that you would have so many different interests that you’d be able to tap into?

Barrett T.:                                No. I’ve always been a really passionate person and gotten really excited about working on projects and working in teams. When I was working on those economic problem sets, I promise you I didn’t have most of the answers. In fact, I had very little, but I was the person in the team that knew where the different skills lied around me, and was able to smile and have a group take me in and work on a problem set and keep morale high, and learn as I was going, too.

When I translated that into working on a project, it was really about the strengths of the people around me. I said, “Hey, I’m going to bring the smile. I’m going to bring the work ethic, but I don’t know anything about real estate taxes or zoning or fiduciary responsibilities.” The community really rallied behind the project and we were able to put an amazing team in place. Yeah, I guess I was the conductor that was just saying thank you a lot and making the requests that had to be made and following up and keeping everybody on task together.

Lisa Belisle:                             You recently bought a condo here in Portland and you said that it’s important to not only have this place that you’re going to move into but also it’s important to have a place where you can practice your faith.

Barrett T.:                                Oh, yeah. That’s funny that you interpret it that way. It’s actually very true. The synagogue I was referring to is the Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue, which is the new home of Portland Community Squash. Where I practice my faith is the back cathedral at St. Luke’s Church on state street, so my faith doesn’t exactly align with the history of the building, but it’s the same God. I suppose Jesus is a little bit of a different conversation when looking at Judaism and Christianity, but yeah, these … My faith, too, is also in community, as well.

That synagogue at 66th Noyes Street has been a place for celebration and mourning and faith for more than 50 years, since 1955, and the same is true for every church, synagogue and mosque and other communal faith space in Portland. It’s really sad. I saw on Instagram that another synagogue had a de-consecration ceremony coming up. Those places used to be where community collected, and we have fewer and fewer of those spaces now. We’re just really thankful that Portland Community Squash, we could preserve that space as a place that would be a place of celebration and support and community.

To me, that’s just as influential as making it to a Sunday service once in a while at St. Luke’s.

Lisa Belisle:                             You’re actively practicing what you believe in.

Barrett T.:                                Yeah, yeah. In every aspect of my life right now. I feel very fortunate.

Lisa Belisle:                             What would you like to see happen with Portland Community Squash in the next 10 years?

Barrett T.:                                I can see the potential energy in the space as we have these amazing stories of students that have taken themselves all the way through adolescence. My mentors, my high school squash coach, we just celebrated his 100th birthday party, so 72 years of working with youth, and you couldn’t imagine a better end of life. He had James Taylor sing a song for him because he used to teach James Taylor when he was a kid, and Deval Patrick was there, the governor of Massachusetts. It’s not that it’s the remarkable students, necessarily, that make it special, but just the outpour and the amount of people that you can support through your life time.

I’m just so excited to try to create this culture that’s so positive in student’s lives, to see them come through, and then the nice thing about having an adult membership, too, is that hopefully they’ll come back to Portland, make their own stamp on Portland, and be members of Portland Community Squash, and be able to see the next generations of kids come through, as well.

It’s really a life long offering that we’re offering to our community. I’m just excited to be in a position where I can watch generations of people come through that program.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’ve been speaking with Barrett Takesian who opened the community center at Portland Community Squash in January of 1017. He currently serves as the president and executive director. Thank you so much for the work that you’re doing and thanks for coming in.

Barrett T.:                                Thank you for having me.

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Lisa Belisle:                             Vanessa Seder is a chef, food stylist, recipe developer, teacher, author, and founding member of Relish and Co, a Portland-based culinary design collaborative. Her new cookbook, Secret Sauces, was published in the autumn of 2017. Thanks for coming in.

Vanessa Seder:                      Thanks for having me.

Lisa Belisle:                             I do love this book. It’s just such a beautiful product. It makes me feel inspired to start making some sauces.

Vanessa Seder:                      Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m so happy you like it. One of our goals in writing and creating this book was that it would be a book that you could give as a gift if you wanted to, and it’s coming out around the holiday, so it’s good timing for that. Also, the size of it, we didn’t want it to be too heavy and thick and big. You know how some cookbooks, you open, and they kind of pillow out and then they close on you. We wanted this book to be really, really tangible so that people actually cook from it.

Lisa Belisle:                             I can see that that would happen, even as I’m opening up the book itself I can tell that it would lay pretty flat which is … I know it’s a strange thing to worry about but, I can see this being on a counter and using it as a reference, and I guess, being inspired by it.

Vanessa Seder:                      Yeah, we thought about every little thing, component, for this book, and from the visuals to just how it felt in your hand.

Lisa Belisle:                             As someone who has been in the food world for quite a while, why was it that sauces were so interesting to you?

Vanessa Seder:                      Wow, I mean, cookbooks run the culinary gamut. There’s so many cookbooks out there. What happened is this book came to us. It came to our company Relish and Co. An editor we had worked with through Rissole on a different book had just started working at Kyle Books and he came to us with a blank slate. Just create a cookbook, so we really thought about it and one thing that I remembered from culinary school, one of the first things you learn is all about classic sauces, French sauces.

The culinary school I went to which was in New York City is the Institute of Culinary Education. It was classic French technique, and sauces can really transform any kind of a dish. They can be very simple. They can also be very complex and take a long time to make, but that’s kind of part of the secret. You can have your every day average meal, but if you have some incredible sauces and you make a few and you keep them around for a week, even, some of these will last for a week or two weeks, but they are very fresh. They’re not going to last forever, they really can transform even a chicken breast or some vegetables.

The way it came about was through thinking about that as a basis of what you can do with sauces, and traditionally how they’re used in classic techniques, and then trying to modernize the sauces and coming up with featured specific recipes to use the sauces with. I did a lot of research and I noticed that a lot of cookbooks … There are other sauce cookbooks out there, of course. This isn’t the only one, but what makes this one a little bit different is that you start with your sauce and then each recipe has a specific recipe that corresponds with the sauce.

If you’d like to, you can make the sauce and make the recipe, plus, we’re calling them extra credit ideas. They’re really specific ideas for how to use each sauce, so you’re not just left making a sauce, “What do I do with it?”

Lisa Belisle:                             Have you found that people maybe aren’t as used to spending time on sauces as they once were?

Vanessa Seder:                      Definitely, I think. There are so many sauces you can just simply buy in the supermarket, so why not just buy those? I guess, putting in a little bit of extra time, you know what you’re getting. A lot of the sauces in this book, I kind of specifically stay away from the rue-based classic sauces. These are modern and a lot of them are made with really fresh ingredients.

Like I said before, they’re not going to last that long but the difference is there’s no preservative. There are some interesting new sauces in here that I encourage people to try, and I tried to make everything incredibly tangible so that people would really cook from the book. I think there’s a lot of books out there that, they’re wonderful but they’re so complicated.

People don’t have the time. I want people to try making sauces and to expand their palettes. It’s important to me.

Lisa Belisle:                             What are some of your favorites?

Vanessa Seder:                      There’s so many. Let me go through the book here. I love sweets, so … Okay, this is going to sound a little weird, but one of the recipes is for this dish called, it’s Secret Ingredient Caramel, and it actually has a little bit of soy sauce and miso in it. I know, it sounds bizarre, but what those do … Salt, if you think of salt as not just salty but a flavor enhancer, it adds flavor to the caramel.

You know how people are into salted caramel? It does the same thing. The miso in it gives it a sense of umami. Have you heard of umami before?

Lisa Belisle:                             Yes.

Vanessa Seder:                      You really get that plus the flavor of caramel, so it’s a lot of flavor, but it’s also subtle at the same time, and it really works. Savory … I have a sauce that I really love and this is one of the first sauces that came to me for the book. It’s a purple basil and almond smash, and it’s just a very fresh … It’s not a pesto. It doesn’t have garlic or Parmesan like a pesto, but it just has the flavors of almond and lemon and basil, and it’s a really great way to use all that wonderful, fresh summer basil when you can get it.

That is paired with a blueberry Caprese sandwich, which is with prosciutto and Burrata cheese and more basil and blueberries, and micro greens, and then you just drizzle some of that sauce over the top. It’s like an opened face sandwich. It’s a very summery-flavored sandwich. There’s a lot that I love. I wrote the book, so … Avocado green goddess, a lot of these are based on my upbringing in Los Angeles.

I’m a third generation Los Angelino, and if you haven’t been, maybe you don’t think of it as a place where there’s a lot of culture. There actually is. It’s not European. It’s Hispanic and Asian, is the background there, so I grew up eating tons of incredible Mexican food and really interesting Asian dishes.

That cuisine has always been a part of who I am as a chef today. I like to incorporate those flavors into what I cook. This book has a very international based focus. There are sauces from all over the world in this book, and I really feel like food and cooking bring people together, and it’s a way to expand people’s palettes and what they … They can try new dishes and new sauces and they’re tangible in this book.

Lisa Belisle:                             Do you think that it is helpful that, for example, most people have had a curry sauce by now. Most people have had a pesto sauce by now, without even really thinking, “Oh, these came from other parts of the world.” Do you think that it’s helpful to have that common language of other cultures to start with?

Vanessa Seder:                      I think so, definitely. There’s a Thai green curry in the book, so not all the sauces are that outlandish or out there, but it’s my own take on them and it’s what I would recommend putting in it. I think, we live here in Portland … I’ve lived here since 2011, and it really is a foodie town, and more and more, a foodie town. We’re so lucky. It expands beyond lobster and blueberry pie and there’s just some fabulous restaurants here.

I just feel like food is becoming more and more important in our culture in this country anyway. I think, more and more people are willing to try dishes that maybe they wouldn’t have tried 10 years ago, so hopefully they’ll cook from this book. That’s my goal, is that they actually cook from it, it’s not just a table book.

Lisa Belisle:                             I noticed that one of the recipes you had in there was for mayonnaise.

Vanessa Seder:                      Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             Which is kind of funny, because I know it’s something that we can make, I’ve made it before, but most of us just think of, I guess, Hellman’s.

Vanessa Seder:                      Hellman’s, that’s true. You can always use Hellman’s, it’s great. There’s nothing wrong with Hellman’s, but if you’ve made your own Mayonnaise, it just elevates it. The way this book works, too, is each chapter starts with a modernized version of the mother sauces. Have you heard of the mother sauces before?

Lisa Belisle:                             I have not.

Vanessa Seder:                      In classic French technique, you learn about the mother sauces which consist of Bechamel, Espanol, tomato, Hollandaise, Demi glace, Veloute. The concept of the mother sauces is you start with that sauce, you make the sauce, and then they kind of tangent out into other sauces.

For example, the Bechamel, which his a rue mixed with milk, you add cheese to that and that becomes a Mornay sauce. What is that the base of? Macaroni and cheese, right?

Lisa Belisle:                             Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vanessa Seder:                      What I did was I modernized the mother sauces. You have your mayo, and that’s in the creamy chapter, but then you can also transform that into [inaudible 00:39:19] and sesame mayo which is kind of like a Korean flavor, smoky tomato, miso and soy, or lemon and herb. Then, you could use those on sushi, a hamburger … I have drizzled the miso and soy mayo over blanched asparagus spears. Serve the lemon and herb with fried seafood or swipe artichoke leaves through it.

It’s really specific. Each chapter has its own new mother sauce, plus, you get 65 recipes plus 65 sauce recipes. That’s 130 recipes plus all the mother sauce recipes. You get a lot of sauces in here, basically.

Lisa Belisle:                             Why do you call it the Secret Sauce?

Vanessa Seder:                      Why is it a secret? Because, you can simply transform anything bland or typical into something extraordinary through the use of a sauce. People don’t think of it that way, but, simply by making a few sauces … You could have, let’s say, a chicken breast or a pork tenderloin and you put different sauces on it that go with it. Three different sauces, you have three different pork tenderloins. It’s as simple as that. Sauces can be very simple. They can also be complicated, but the secret is that you can quickly make a sauce and completely transform your dish.

Lisa Belisle:                             How did you decide to go to culinary school?

Vanessa Seder:                      I guess it’s a long story, but I never grew up with home economic classes. Growing up in Los Angeles, I went to a small, private school for the arts and sciences, and that was just never an option, but cooking was something I always did, and I’ve always been very visual and into crafts and cooking.

I moved to New York after college. I went to school in Boston, and I just found myself cooking all the time, just to deal with moving to New York, because it’s kind of an intense place. I guess the first thing I noticed is I couldn’t see the horizon, and I was so used to seeing the horizon, so it took me a while to deal with that, but I found my calm, my calm place, through cooking, and I also had just moved in with my boyfriend who’s now my husband.

It was a way of just communicating my love for him and for us and making friends, and I just always have loved food. I love trying to get people to try new things, and I just would talk about it all the time, to the point where people were sick of it, and my friends and family, they just said, “Why don’t you go to culinary school?”

It was at the coaxing of everybody that I finally did it, and it was the best decision I made. I went in 2003, which was an interesting time because it was a couple years after 9/11. We were there for 9/11, and so what came out of that horrible, horrible day was that people started to really question their lives and how they want to use their time, and what their passions are.

When I was in culinary school, there were a lot of people there that were kind of in that phase. They were reexamining their lives, and some had been in the financial industry, some had been writers, everybody. We all came together and we cooked and that’s how I ended up there. It was just such a fabulous experience. I was so sad when it ended, truly.

Lisa Belisle:                             It sounds like it was really a way to reground yourself in some ways.

Vanessa Seder:                      Completely, yeah. I think, because it was just a genuine interest and passion for me, I think it’s just kind of grown into this career. When I was in culinary school, I staged at restaurants, and staging means you cook for free. You just volunteer your services and they give you the bottom tasks, so chopping mushrooms for stock or carrying things up and down stairs, trying not to trip in your clogs. Doing that, I got a sense of the world of working in restaurants and I worked for some caterers, and I just realized, I don’t know if, long term, that’s for me.

I worked for a family for two and a half years as a personal chef. I catered their parties, I came up with meal planning for them. I didn’t serve them. I would just make the food and I would leave it, and then I started assisting this food stylist on this television show and I would get up at the crack of dawn and we would lug everything into the studio and set up, and it was a live studio audience.

I just loved the challenge of keeping the food looking fresh and beautiful for the set, and also working with different chefs and getting to meet different people. It was really exciting for me, so I kind of decided to go in that direction, and then I worked at the Food Network. That was more on the production side, on Iron Chef America and Emeril Live, and then I started testing recipes for Atkin’s, and then I just kind of fell into the editorial side of things.

I think it really suits me. I spent years, also, assisting food stylists. That’s really the only way to learn food styling. It sounds more glamorous than it is. It’s actually very hard work and you have a lot of pressure to produce. That’s kind of how I ended up doing all these crazy things.

Lisa Belisle:                             I noticed when I was paging through that this truly is a beautiful book.

Vanessa Seder:                      Thank you.

Lisa Belisle:                             There’s a sense of art around the dishes, and I know that you were very involved in all of it, really.

Vanessa Seder:                      Yes, yes. Like I said, all they gave us was, “Create a book,” so, what do you do with that? First, what we did was we met, the three of us, and we kind of talked about what we wanted and what the aesthetic would be, and the three of us always work very well together. We bring different elements to the table, and actually it was Stacey the photographer who … She first thought of … She made a couple salad dressings.

She and her husband are excellent cooks and they’re mostly vegetarians, and she was talking about having a few sauces and keeping them around and using them in different ways. It kind of grew out of that idea, and then I thought about my culinary school training and just how important sauces are.

Yeah, that’s kind of how it came about. It was such a pleasure to work on. I was talking to you before we started here, about the short time frame of doing everything, and we actually shot this in the winter, which was another challenge, because we had to gather out of season, summery looking vegetables in January, and we also mostly shoot with natural light.

In the winter, you have these very short days, so we were working with a lot of challenges to deliver this book, but we’re all very happy with how it turned out. Some of the pages do end up looking pretty summery, so there’s that.

Once I got started … It was a big project, but once I kind of got into it and got rhythm going, I got so much pleasure out of creating these recipes and just being with myself in the kitchen and just letting my creativity go. You don’t usually get that as a recipe developer. You’re developing for somebody else, dietary constraints, what they want to work with, so to just have that freedom was just wonderful.

Lisa Belisle:                             The book is dedicated to your miracle daughter, Conscious.

Vanessa Seder:                      Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             How old is she?

Vanessa Seder:                      She’s five.

Lisa Belisle:                             How does she feel about all of your time in the kitchen? Does she join in?

Vanessa Seder:                      I’ve decided I’m going to teach her how to use a knife soon. There’s these kits for children that have safe knives. She loves to cook with me. In terms of eating, she’s the most picky eater … The irony. I was never a picky eater. I didn’t think it was going to be an issue, so how to deal with it, but she does love to cook with me, so it’s our daughter, of course. We love her so much.

Lisa Belisle:                             Does she cook with you but not eat what she cooks?

Vanessa Seder:                      Yeah, basically.

Lisa Belisle:                             She’s able to appreciate all of this on some level.

Vanessa Seder:                      On some level. I think, writing the book was a little hard though because I had to hire a lot of sitters, and sitter time, and it was time away from her. As her mom, of course she’s my priority, so I had to balance everything as a mom, and try to make it work. That was another level of challenge to these projects. It’s the age old question of work, family life balance, so definitely there were days when she wanted my love and attention and I gave her as much as I possibly could, but it’s just a balance.

Lisa Belisle:                             I think what you’re saying is that you got so much enjoyment out of it that it probably translated into just having a happier life in general even though it was busier.

Vanessa Seder:                      It was, it was, but it was also around the holidays and I was doing a lot of writing, too, so at least she had Christmas to fall back on. There were weeks when she had vacation from school and those were really challenging weeks because I needed that time to get through this project, so it was getting a lot of help from family and friends to help watch her and take care of her, but we can all relate to those days, right?

Lisa Belisle:                             Absolutely, yeah, anybody who has kids.

Vanessa Seder:                      Yes.

Lisa Belisle:                             How did you end up in Portland?

Vanessa Seder:                      That’s a great question. We lived in Carol Gardens, Brooklyn, for 11 years. It was just time. I think we missed having nature nearby. I am a city girl, but, growing up in Los Angeles there was always hiking and ocean available. Not so much in New York City, and we were just really burnt out. We had opposite schedules. We never ate dinner together. I missed those things.

Now we do. It’s great. We’re all together at night. We get to go hiking when we want to. We get to raise our daughter here in this beautiful place and I’d never lived in such a small city and I absolutely love it. I think it really suits me more than large cities.

We moved here and I really felt at home. We’ve been coming here a long time because my brother and sister in law live here, and luckily, they live down the street from us now, so it’s just nice to have some family closer, too.

We’ve met such wonderful friends. I think, what keeps us here is the beauty of Maine. I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of winter. Did not grow up with winter and I don’t ski, and I don’t like being cold, but it’s temporary and the summers and the spring and the autumn make up for it, and the people. We’ve met such wonderful people here, and that’s important to me.

You can be digging through a trash can, but if you’re with the right person, that’s what matters, maybe on some level, but we absolutely love it. There’s not a day when … We just sit on our front porch and we look out at the stars, which you can’t see in New York City, which here you can, and we just feel so blessed that we have this life. We’re so happy.

Lisa Belisle:                             The work that you do with Relish and Co, how’s that going?

Vanessa Seder:                      That’s great. We work with national and local companies. We just finished doing some work with Pulp and Wire, which is another company here in town, for Barney Butter, so that was great. We found each other working on another cookbook. It was called Real Maine Food. I did the food styling and I actually ghost wrote some recipes for it, and we had talked for a while, the three of us, or more like joked about how do we come together and keep this going. Finally, we just said, “Hey, let’s do this. Let’s come together and form a little company,” so we worked very hard at having it come together and then we finally came out with it.

It took about nine months of secretly planning this. We actually have studio in Cape Elizabeth, now, and our prop collection is forever growing. We have a large prop collection and we shoot out of our studio. We mostly shoot daylight. We have a kitchen in our studio so I can develop and test recipes there if needed, so it’s a wonderful little space. Yeah, we’re doing great.

Lisa Belisle:                             I encourage people to buy your book and try the recipes in it. I think I’m inspired to do this. I’m loving the watermelon radish on the front cover here, and I’m really kind of amazed that, when I think about sauces, that must have been an interesting … You can’t just put pictures of bowls full of sauce. You got to find some way to actually visually represent, but I’m pretty amazed that you guys have done such a nice job with this, really.

Vanessa Seder:                      Yeah. We were very organized and we knew how many photos we would have to put in the book and how many pages the book was going to be ahead of time. We kind of broke down how many jars of sauce we actually wanted to show in the book, and then we wanted to show pictures of the recipes that go with each sauce. I think, just, sauce drizzled on something can be, just beautiful, absolutely beautiful, if it’s done the right way.

Also, in the book there’s ingredient shots too, where we just have some of the ingredients out so you can kind of see what you’ll be playing with, but I tried to keep, just in general in the book, I tried to keep the ingredients as accessible as possible.

If there’s any ingredients that are hard to find I give an alternative suggestion for something else you could use in its place, but I just wanted to keep this book incredibly tangible and easy to use. That was the goal. That’s the ultimate goal, and I teach every month and that’s kind of my motto when I teach, as well. I like to expand people’s palettes but also have it be tangible so people actually will cook the stuff at home for their families and friends.

Cooking is such an important skill. It actually makes me sad when I hear people have no interest in it, because you’re feeding yourself. You’re feeding your family. It’s super important. It’s not a talent, it’s like a life skill, and you’re never too early to start.

Lisa Belisle:                             I agree, I agree.

Vanessa Seder:                      Oh, good.

Lisa Belisle:                             I’ve been speaking with Vanessa Seeder who is a chef, food stylist, recipe developer, teacher, author, and founding member of Relish and Co, a Portland-based culinary design collaborative. Her new cookbook, Secret Sauces, was published in the fall of 2017. Congratulations on this beautiful book.

Vanessa Seder:                      Thank you so much.

Lisa Belisle:                             I hope people go out and buy one for themselves.

Vanessa Seder:                      I hope so, too. The holidays are around the corner.

Lisa Belisle:                             You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 325. Our guests have included Barrett Takesian and Vanessa Seder. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes.

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Join us again next week, and in the meantime, may you have a bountiful life.

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